2014

Gonzalinho da Costa

The words of a rainy day
Drift incessantly, sighing.
Clouds wander about, homeless.
Soughing water vanishes.

The earth melts, insensate.
Shiny rocks rise in assembly.
Silence bends a strong arm.
Belief sits, quiet as bread.

– Gonzalinho da Costa

Fraying at the brim,
A hat with holes
Darkens his face,
Folded and lined.
Beneath long sleeves,
Torn and shabby,
A dirty cotton layer
Shields his arms,
Dusky branches, wizened.
Swinging a pickaxe,
He hacks the ground,
Digging out dirt and rocks
To pay the debts
Of an elephant,
Animal he resembles
As it clambers out of water,
Dripping, shiny, wrinkled.
Filmy, perspiring,
Resting on the long handle
End of his standing tool,
He is almost motionless,
Inert gob of smoldering
Lava in deep time,
Blackened, steaming.
He sighs, heaving for
Ages and ages to come.
Untying his kerchief,
He mops his brow,
Tilts his head upward,
Blinks, fluttering eyelids,
Tremulous insects…
Sees nothing
But the sun.

Joseph Buehler

We could hopscotch
into the brazen wilderness,
heads thrust dangerously forward.

You may find a valuable lesson
from this experience: soft, though,
as a mother’s slow and gentle smile.

(Who’s for Rutherford one more time?)

Jacob, we’ll be sure to use your
surprising paradigm shift (sea change,
if you insist) in our next production,
but a Greek turn is not particularly
appropriate in this part of the far northwest.

(Snow seems to be accumulating gradually
in those far off fields.)

Did you happen to notice that Minnesota is
turning a very light tan again this spring?

The black bears over there, about forty yards
from here, are simply of our own imagining.

penamerican:

“Nobody’s Empire” – new song/video by Belle and Sebastian

Sam Gridley

 A dark wash of sky edged the top and left. Thin horizontal strokes suggested the bricks. At right-center a vinyl-clad window frame jutted in stark beige—a technical feat, Dev thought, to make beige appear stark—and within that rectangle a vague form emerged, its gray diagonals tapering upward from the thick base.

A tightly framed urban scene, Dev’s new watercolor went a step beyond the still lifes they’d painted in class. Like a flowing river, the muted grays and blues subtly blended. His teacher would have been proud of him, Dev decided. With a smirk he imagined a title, and he flipped the paper to inscribe it: The Upper Mahoney at Dawn. But his hand jerked to a halt.

True, nobody would see this. The class at the local art center was over, and he hadn’t signed up for another. Even if he hung this picture in his living room, nobody would encounter it because nobody visited him. If someone did see it, the image was abstract enough to be innocent. And yet, yet—he wouldn’t risk a title that any possible viewer might possibly associate with a neighbor he had possibly been watching through his second-floor bedroom window.

At age 47 Devin Neill was certainly not a peeper. In fact, he was so respectful of women’s modesty—he would correctly have said women’s rights—that he looked away from pretty females on the street to avoid a suggestion of impertinence. He was polite, naturally shy, unassuming; never in his life had he whistled or uttered smutty comments. Thus he would have been mortified to confess that the diagonal lines in his painting were inspired by Maureen Mahoney’s thick arms rising from her stocky middle.

It had started with a dog’s bark: the little yip-yap terrier the people next door had adopted and, for inconceivable reasons, let out at break of day—maybe because he did his yapping at their bedside until they tossed him. The bark penetrated like a cap gun fired next to Dev’s ear. Usually he muttered a few curses and drifted off again. Since he’d quit work to care for Ellie, he had no need or inclination to rise early. His own dog, Agatha, an eleven-year-old beagle, scarcely shifted under the bed. One morning, however, when a spring snowfall had been predicted, the bark seemed muted, and Dev was curious enough to stumble from the covers and pull back his blind, hoping to find the yip-yap nose-deep in white stuff. Neither terrier nor snow met his gaze, just the motorcycle his neighbor parked on the sidewalk. Even when he fetched his glasses from the dresser and rubbed bleariness from his eyes, the one-lane street, little more than an alley, lay drab and bare in the reluctant light that dribbled past the rooftops. The dog must be back inside already.

Then he happened to glance at the rowhouse directly across the street, whose backyard faced the front of his house. Above its tiny garden, movement caught his eye—barely distinguishable, framed by the window and obscured by thin curtains, a scissoring of dark gray shapes trailed by loose, lighter shadows.

He gawked a moment, uncomprehending. When he realized it was a person doing exercises—most likely a woman, to judge by the rounded torso below the arms—he immediately let his blind fall back into place. But he was roused. Surreptitiously, concealing his movement not only from the outside but from Agatha, who’d emerged from under the bed to yawn at him, he pinched the blind with thumb and forefinger to draw it back a smidgen. Yes, a woman, and most likely in a filmy nightgown that created those loose shadows. The faint illumination must come from a small bedside lamp. He thought he could make out the crease of her cleavage, and the rhythmic movement of her arms mesmerized him. She must have no thought of being seen, and only his straight-line view made it possible. “It’s nothing,” he whispered to the dog. “Go back to sleep, Aggie.”

At that point he didn’t even know the woman’s name, except that he recalled seeing “Maloney” or “Mahoney” on mail sent to that address. This knowledge came courtesy of the postal service, which often delivered to the right number on the wrong street. The house in question, which fronted on the next street over, shared exactly the same number as Dev’s; five or six times, at least, he and Agatha had walked an errant envelope or flyer around the block to slide into the Maloney/Mahoney mail slot. He took a small amount of pride in performing this civic duty, even for junk mail. That was the kind of man he was, a good citizen, a trustworthy neighbor, a man who picked up after his dog—never, never a peeper.

And yet he got in the habit, aided by the yip-yap alarm clock. Each morning he would inch back the blind to check. And each morning, crack of dawn, she was there, doing these simple, old-fashioned exercises to start the day, with no hint of another person in the room with her. Then came another wayward piece of mail addressed to Maureen Mahoney, and from its nature (a utility bill) he guessed this was the woman of the house and that she had no husband. He was tempted to knock on her door when he redelivered the envelope, to get a clear look at her, but he refrained. It was too painful to imagine his excuse: “Here’s your electric bill. I thought you might need it right away.” And what if she saw through his pretext as readily as he saw through her window?

Much of Dev’s moral self-consciousness could be traced to his excellent Catholic education, from which he’d gleaned an abiding knowledge of participles, square roots and the Commandments—both the original Ten and the additional dozens codified by the school nuns. Long lapsed from faith into mockery—“Thou shalt not entertain fleas on thy body,” he intoned to Agatha—he nevertheless endured a free-floating guilt that could attach itself to the most trivial actions, such as the way he entered the local drugstore. If he held the door open for a young woman four steps behind him, was he insulting her with his attention? Or with his chauvinism? Or, if he pushed through the door with no notice of her, was that an insult?

Former colleagues and friends, if they’d known his current emotional state, might have said he deserved a long-term exemption from guilt because of his devotion to Ellie. Not that he would have believed them, but their respect might have soothed some of his chafing.

Ellie had been 28, he 29, when the first symptoms appeared, and for this reason they never had children—a “rational choice,” they agreed. She remained roughly stable for more than a decade, but as she approached her forties the decline began, and it seemed like they’d been assigned a New Calendar. After year 1 NC, when the sclerosis had sapped her coordination and balance, she had to quit teaching. “It’s all right,” she grinned; “I’ll work on the garden.” In year 2 NC, when her speech slurred and she struggled in the shower, Dev left the industrial design job he’d had since graduate school. Because he’d been lucky, or modestly talented, in the stock market, they could live awhile on his investments. “You’re the bez huzzand I ever had,” she joked. During 4 NC she became depressed and silent except for periodic outbursts of frenzy. Her vision faded. She no longer wanted to see friends, and he couldn’t impose that hardship on her. By the end of 5 NC she was confined to bed and couch, and he was feeding and bathing her and carrying her to the toilet. “’Eave me be!” she squealed, hating the strain of movement. Late in 6 NC, when her brain had short-circuited so much she was terrified of the beagle, he hired an expensive visiting nurse to help. After a few weeks of that, he committed Ellie to a nursing home—entirely his decision, since her parents were dead and her lone sibling too distant to have any say in the matter.

It had now been eleven months since Ellie left the house, and he hadn’t learned how to fill the time once spent caring for her, or how to replace the daily dose of tenderness and loss. He endured hours when every action seemed arbitrary and pointless. To get by, he focused on small things: grinding exactly the right amount of coffee for his first cup in the morning; clipping the mats behind Agatha’s ears before they hardened into walnuts.

At first he had visited the nursing home three times a week; lately it was more like once a week, since Ellie no longer recognized him. Agatha seemed to have forgotten her mistress, but every once in a while, as a reminder, Dev lifted a photo from the mantel and held it down for the dog to sniff. He was sentimentally foolish that way.

Lecturing himself about the need to carry on—imagining what the nuns would have said about the sin of despair—he had tried to rejoin the working world, but positions were scarce, and his years out of touch with technology counted against him in any subfield of industrial design except perhaps the layout of cosmetics counters (he shuddered when he read that ad). With diffidence he posted his résumé online as a “consultant” and received only a handful of inquiries. He took some tiny freelance jobs for small pay and made desultory attempts to reestablish contacts and update his software skills. Because Ellie qualified for state support in the nursing home, and because his mortgage payments were modest in this mixed, only partially gentrified neighborhood, he managed to scrape by with his freelancing and the remains of his investments.

Though Dev did believe he’d been virtuous overall, the roaming guilt found numerous points of attachment. He thought he might have held out longer before committing Ellie. He believed he should visit her more often. His memory of their life together focused on painful moments when he should have done better. There’d been a time, for instance, in 4 NC, when he tried to ease Ellie’s anguish, and his own, by cautious lovemaking. At the instant he penetrated her she screamed—a loud incoherent wail—so he stroked her hair and whispered sweet things and managed to quiet her long enough for himself to finish. Afterward it seemed to him that he’d forced himself on her. He never touched her in a marital way again, and on the occasions when he masturbated the conviction of his disloyalty intensified.

And yet, having discovered the view at dawn, he kept returning to it. He would not have called his peeping lustful or salacious, not exactly. This woman was, after all, stocky, probably middle-aged; he thought he’d seen her on the street or in her scruffy garden a few times, and she was just this side of flabby. Whatever exercise she was getting, she needed more. One of those broad-bottomed, heavy-bosomed, time-ravaged Irish matrons. And yet. She fascinated him to the point of retrieving binoculars from the downstairs closet, last used for a bird-watching outing with Ellie. He developed a skill of pinching the blind with one hand while focusing the glasses with the other, keeping well back of the window to make sure the observation remained one-way. Agatha grew accustomed to this morning routine, one of those human inexplicabilities to which dogs of the world must adapt themselves. She crawled from under the bed, groaned and flopped on the rug with a sigh.

The day of the first binoculars episode, Dev made a point of visiting Ellie. Confined to bed, she was fed by tube now, monitored more by machines than by humans, an inert thing with limited consciousness. Once an athletic, sensuous woman, she had withered to a knobby stick—a cruel observation that he tried to assuage by kissing her on the slick forehead and stroking her hair before he sat down to talk for half an hour. He mentioned that a former colleague of hers had been written up in the newspaper as an exemplary teacher. He described the emergence once more of the grape hyacinths she’d planted in the backyard. He told her about Agatha’s latest exploits with a gaggle of Canada geese.

As he gabbed about the birds, a memory jerked into his consciousness and immediately out his mouth: “Remember the herons and cormorants we saw nesting at Campobello?” When she gurgled he pretended she understood, and he laughed and patted her gaunt arm. But he paid for this charade with a flush of shame.

At Campobello, in 2 NC, they’d had a great time spotting birds with the binoculars, a Mother’s Day present (nominally from Agatha) to help Ellie enjoy the outdoors even if she couldn’t bike and hike the way they used to. He’d taken her on carefully structured expeditions, hauling along folding chairs and the dairy-free, gluten-free, taste-free snacks that were supposedly good for her. One evening, on the porch of a 200-year-old inn along the shore, snuggling against an unexpected chill, they’d listened to the eerie wail of loons over the water, and Ellie had spontaneously, wickedly, licked him in the ear.

Now that he’d used the binoculars, the special gift, to betray her, could he believe that he’d ever cared? But of course I did! he shouted at himself. I mean, I do still! Yet in a few minutes he slunk from Ellie’s room without his usual word to the friendly nurses at the desk.

That night, trying to calm himself with the newspaper and a hefty glass of Cabernet, he scanned a story about a local crafts shop, and he paused over a comment by the owner: “When people are depressed, they like to create.” No, Dev objected, they like to get drunk and sleep. The next night, however (after his second use of the binoculars at the window), he signed up online for the watercolor lessons, two nights a week for six weeks. In high school and college he’d been a pretty good artist; why, he asked himself, had he let it go?

Though he didn’t fully articulate his deeper reasons, he knew he mustn’t let his situation grow more desperate. Gotta do some new things, meet some new people, he mumbled to himself. Illogically he also thought, Ellie will understand.

For the first time in years he became concerned about his appearance, slicking back his mostly gray hair, shaving carefully, choosing clothes that might help him look slim and fit rather than pallid and bony. The art lessons turned out to be fun. As an industrial designer he’d done plenty of technical drawing, but not since school had he tried watercolors, and the chance to create an object with no practical use appealed to him. He’d forgotten that one could see so much in a simple vase on a patterned cloth on a wooden table. The conversations about trivial things like brushes and easels helped reignite his social skills after so long a confinement with a sick wife. Unfortunately, the six-person class contained no eligible women except the instructor, in her mid-thirties, who held his glance just long enough to make him embarrassed about his imaginings.

Ironically, as watercolors helped renew his enthusiasm for normal life, this fresh passion poured itself into his early-morning deviance. He loved the weight, the heft, the substantiality of the shadows Maureen created, especially the deeper textures where the nightgown rounded over her breasts. With delight he anticipated the small changes when she turned at a slight angle. He imagined a violin tune composed to the voluptuous rhythm of her arms. Soon this morning ritual became as necessary to him as the first cup of coffee.

In one sense his routine grew easier as the season progressed, since the hour when she rose was now well-lit and warming. In a more important way, however, his surveillance suffered, because the increased outdoor light made her form harder to discern through the window. Without the binoculars, he would have seen nothing, and he contemplated buying a pair with greater magnification. On the day he painted The Upper Mahoney at Dawn, he was working partly from memory.

At last, on the afternoon when he discovered himself in a sporting goods store pricing the latest, highest-powered binoculars, he came to his senses—and broke out in such a sweat that he thought the store’s employees must recognize him as a pervert. Enough was enough, he decided. He mustn’t let this obsession continue. If he couldn’t abandon his disgusting practice, he would have to meet her—put the affair on a proper footing.

He plotted. It was complicated. When you’ve occupied an almost-adjacent property for two decades, how do you suddenly introduce yourself? He devised scenarios: He’d alter his usual dog-walking route to pass her place—a plausible choice, since her house faced a wide avenue—and she’d be out sitting on the stoop on one of these warm spring days. Agatha, ever curious, would turn to sniff and he’d have to reprimand her, “No, no, Agatha, don’t pester people.” He’d smile and catch the woman’s eye. And Maureen Mahoney would say, “Agatha! That’s a funny name for a dog.” To which he’d answer, “Actually, she thinks it’s highly dignified.” Another smile.

While making up dozens of variations on this scene—trying to improve the wittiness of his banter—he did change his itinerary with Agatha, concocting a thrice-daily course that passed the Mahoney house both coming and going. For two weeks, no sightings rewarded this effort until one evening he spotted a familiar head of hair turning up the steps next door to the Mahoneys. It belonged to Sally the Sussex spaniel, one of Agatha’s acquaintances, and at the other end of the leash was the lank fortyish woman to whom Dev usually nodded while the dogs sniffed. He hurried to greet them before they disappeared inside. “Agatha, look, it’s Sally,” he cried, too loudly, and covered his self-consciousness with a complex leash maneuver. “Oh,” the spaniel’s owner turned on the top step, “oh, hi. … Sally, you wanta say hello?”

The dogs made a feeble show of interest in one another, increasing the pressure on Dev to explain why he had accosted the woman on her doorstep. “I didn’t realize,” he said, “you guys lived on this block, we’re on the next street—right behind your neighbors, that is, the Mahoneys.”

“Oh, you’re friends of the Mahoneys?”

“Not, no—not really, but I get their mail.”

This led to a further explanation, during which Dev managed to introduce himself and learn the woman’s name, which turned out to be Sylvia. “It’s ridiculous,” he smiled, “we live here for years and we only know the dogs’ names, not the people’s.”

“Well, you must be, then, Elinor Neill’s husband. Sorry, I never made that connection.”

“You know Ellie?—I didn’t realize.”

“Before she got, I mean, years ago, we used to talk about schools, I’m a teacher too, and my husband’s in the district office, but I haven’t seen her recently.”

“She’s in a nursing home now. Almost a year.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, that’s so sad. I heard she was sick, but I didn’t— Which home?”

And thus onward for several minutes, she on the top step, he below, while the two dogs stared in opposite directions. Dev found out nothing about the Mahoneys, but afterward he wondered how much other apparent strangers knew about him. Before her illness, Ellie had been far more sociable with the neighbors than he had. Perhaps Mrs. Mahoney knew who and what he was, and now she’d hear from her neighbor that his wife was out of the picture? This possibility brought equal amounts of shame and hope.

The anniversary arrived. One year since Ellie left. He spent an hour by her bedside, relating stories about her old acquaintance Sylvia, the friendship of the two dogs, the spectacular blooms on the forsythia and other cheerful exaggerations. He reminisced for a long time about their trip to Campobello, but she seemed unaware of his presence. Her left arm, the skin discolored from IV punctures, twitched at random. The room stank of antiseptic. That night he slurped a full bottle of Pinot Noir, abused himself violently and passed out while imagining himself in jail, beaten by savage guards in nun’s habits.

He skipped one morning of observation, then returned to it with fervor, cursing the rainy days when he saw nothing. By noting the routine Sylvia followed with Sally and timing his outings to coincide, he increased their encounters, and gradually he drew out information about her neighbors. It seemed that Maureen Mahoney’s husband had died in a car accident about fifteen years ago, not long after Ellie became sick. (Had he heard about it at the time?—he couldn’t remember.) She had three grown children who were employed but still living at home. She worked part-time in a convenience store. She attended mass every Sunday. Such a person seemed a poor match for Dev, but facts did not diminish his fascination with the view from his window. A woman of faith, flesh, family, wouldn’t she bring him spiritual as well as physical comfort? Could she help to heal him?

Because he knew now he needed a cure. While he ogled Maureen Mahoney he imagined possessing her in multiple violent ways, with or without her consent. What began as a temporary quirk was taking the hue of long-term criminality.

He considered going to therapy. He meditated about Zen. He studied course catalogs from the art center and a community college. He pondered industrial design conferences he might attend to scour for jobs. Could he take a position elsewhere—in Denver, maybe—and leave Ellie behind? Would anyone in his right mind regard that as abandonment? How about anyone in his wrong mind, like Dev himself? But the problem wasn’t his mind, his old religion argued, it was his soul.

After a further lifetime of frustration, which on an ordinary calendar lasted a week and a half, his persistent parade past the Mahoney front door paid off. One morning, during Aggie’s first walk, the woman opened the door and leaned halfway out as he and the dog approached. He recognized the torso’s shape immediately. “Morning!” he called.

Startled, she drew partway back before acknowledging him. “Oh,” she said. “I’m just checking—is today trash day?”

“Um … yeah, it’s, um, Thursday, isn’t it?”

“But Tuesday was that cop’s funeral at the cathedral.”

“It was?”

“Half the city was shut down. If the trash crews couldn’t get through then, they’ll be a day late.”

This wasn’t how he had imagined their first conversation, but he managed to help her determine that by popular opinion, as evidenced by the prevalence of garbage bags at the curb, today was indeed the right day, and this led to his helping her haul three large bags down her stoop. She wore a loose, thin, drab, short-sleeved thing that he supposed might be called a housedress; her pale broad face was gouged by deep ravines and shadows, accented by thick black brows. Her eyelids looked puffy, and her graying hair hadn’t yet seen a comb today.

“I’m Dev Neill, I live right be—”

“I know,” she said. “We get your mail sometimes. My daughter brings it round.” Her massive breasts flopped as she handled the bags.

“Oh. And this is Agatha, who’s being unusually good around garbage.”

“Hello, Agatha. ‘Scuse me for not petting you, but I never had much use for dogs. We’re cat people.”

Dev attempted a laugh as she climbed heavily up her steps. “I like cats but I’m allergic to them,” he noted.

“Yuh,” she answered over her shoulder. “Thanks for the help. I hope you’re right about garbage day. If they don’t pick it up and some tramp scatters it, I’ll make you scrub my sidewalk.” She turned and gave him a gap-toothed grin before disappearing through the door.

Back home, imagining his face buried between those breasts, he masturbated and then felt sickened by himself. Despairing, he hid in bed for much of the day.

In late afternoon the phone jangled. It was a nurse telling him that Ellie had been sent to the hospital—a gastric hemorrhage from the feeding tube. “What?” he burst out. “How can that—woHeren’t you checking it? Which hospital? When did it happen? Who’s the doctor in charge?” He practically screamed at the woman, his volume rising with his subconscious conviction that Ellie sensed he’d been flirting with a neighbor over garbage bags.

He rushed to the hospital, where he spent three hours waiting for her to emerge from the surgical recovery room and then ten hours by her bedside in the ICU. He filled out forms. He stated his preference regarding resuscitation in case of cardiac or pulmonary crisis (don’t revive her, for God’s sake, she’s suffered enough!). He listened to the electronic clicks of her IV pump and the periodic hoof-hoof-hoof of her automatic blood pressure cuff. He wandered the empty nighttime halls looking for a nurse to ask a question. He calculated whether he had made a mistake in his choice of nursing homes, though he had researched the options in detail. He did everything but look closely at Ellie, an intimacy he found intolerable. Instead, he fussed around the edges of her inertness. At five a.m., having been told repeatedly that his presence wouldn’t help, he stumbled through whooshing pneumatic doors into the garage, where it took him twenty minutes to rediscover his parking spot.

Although his rational mind knew that life is full of coincidence, his well-trained superego assumed God was punishing him. No sensible deity would visit the retribution on Ellie, but the God of Dev’s mind and heart was as arbitrary as a nun wielding a catechism book. He was grateful, almost, to find that Agatha had peed on the living-room carpet.

Waking at noon, he phoned the hospital immediately, only to be told there was no change, she was “resting comfortably.” How do you know she’s comfortable? he wanted to screech. How can you possibly assume such things?

He examined the kitchen cabinets, found he had no appetite for cereal but managed to share a piece of toast with Agatha, and then after hurrying the dog through a brief walk, he bolted for the hospital again. Buzzed into the ICU, he marched to Ellie’s room, which held all the machinery from last night but no patient. In confusion he stepped out to the hall, checked the number beside the door, located himself in reference to the nurses’ station—at which point a nurse noticed him and walked over to put a hand on his arm. “Don’t be alarmed,” she said, “they just took her to surgery. Her hemoglobin wouldn’t come back up, they think there’s more bleeding.”

What? What? he raged inwardly. Who’s the incompetent that—?

The nurse responded to his gape. “If you relax in the waiting room, I’ll come get you as soon as we hear anything.”

“In—in a minute,” he mumbled, and retreated into the room of machines, where he squeezed between the vital signs monitor and the wall, peering down at her empty metal bed. After nearly two decades of dwindle and fade, it struck him suddenly that she was gone.

The sensation of barrenness, sterility, overwhelmed him. Wanting to bawl, he could only manage to gulp air, huff-huff, like an imitation of the blood pressure cuff.

The second surgery proved more difficult than the first. There were complications in major organs as well as in body parts he had never heard of. Two days passed in this fashion, one emergency after another. Sleeping no more than four hours in this period, he was feverish and deluded, slow to comprehend what his eyes told him. At street corners on his way to or from the hospital, he struggled to follow the traffic signals. By the time the soft-spoken doctor came out to the waiting room, the ties of his surgical cap hanging loose, the message was no surprise, though the words entering Dev’s ears felt like a flow of glue.

In the ensuing days the burial preparations kept him occupied. At the funeral service itself (strictly secular, in a mortuary), he saw more people than he expected, not only his parents from Florida, Ellie’s sister from Wyoming and other assorted relatives, but friends and former coworkers with whom he’d been out of touch. In a limited way he was pleased about the funeral luncheon arranged by his mother, though he had the peculiar sense that the world had become two-dimensional. People and chairs and plates seemed equally flat, as did Agatha sprawled under the coffee table.

At one point, returning from the kitchen to the living room, Dev came face to face with Sylvia and Maureen. “We just stopped in,” Sylvia said, “don’t want to intrude on your family, but we wanted you to know how sorry we are.”

“Yuh,” added Maureen.

“She was a lovely neighbor before she got sick.”

“Yuh,” echoed Maureen again.

Sylvia then hugged him, and Maureen brashly followed suit, brushing her large breasts against his chest. The room lurched into three dimensions.

“Let me introduce you,” he gulped, “to my mother and …”

“No,” said Maureen, “we ain’t bothering you, you got enough to deal with. You probably got too much food already, but we left some soda bread and lemon cookies on the table.” And he watched her stout form recede with something akin to friendship.

He realized, then, that he’d neglected his morning observations since Ellie took her turn for the worse. Of course he’d hidden the binoculars before his mother arrived, and the painting as well, and after that he hadn’t thought about them. His obsession had vanished.

What a perfect irony that Ellie had rescued him from creepiness by dying! Could she have had a glimmer of how she helped him, the merest sliver of consciousness? Yes, I’m sure of it, a large black-browed nun smiled at him. You people are insane! he yelled back. OK, that’s another demerit, Sister, go ahead and mark it on my chart.

That evening, with the visitors gone to their homes or hotels, Dev’s empty rooms mocked him with the smell of chicken sandwiches and stale coffee. He shared one of Maureen’s lemon cookies with Agatha and then cried for half an hour, guilty, sentimental, strangely passionate as his mind flashed pictures of Ellie at 28.

The next day, which was trash day again, he rolled up The Upper Mahoney at Dawn and stuffed it in a garbage bag. A mess of grays, he thought, too indicative of his spiritual state.

As he tossed the bag on the sidewalk, he considered walking around to see whether Maureen needed help with her trash, but after a step in that direction, a fit of shameful laughter caught him. He pictured it: Romance and the Scent of Decayed Cabbage: The Miniseries.

He wiped the moisture from his eyes, glancing around to see if anyone had noticed his odd behavior. A slight breeze tickled his arm, and in another moment, standing there with no purpose, he noticed the pleasantness of the morning—warm sun behind the breeze and an interesting pattern at the rowhouse rooflines. Short puffy clouds angled over the garnet and blue cornices against a violet-tinged sky. A scene for a painting? Maybe he’d sign up for another class and expand his palette.

Mitchell Duran

It’s always easier to tear down the highest wall,
To take the clay from under the supports,
Ripping apart souls who have worked their entire lives
Like cotton from a teddy bear,
Counting everything as nothing.

In tides of great pain and of Great War,
The stars still shine brightest,
Hanging in the heavens like icicles along the rafters,
Like rain clinging to thin leaf about bear branch.

When mountains tremble by the sight of man,
We have gone too far.
When explosions can be heard full-circle around the world,
We must ask ourselves: why do we wish to instill fear?

Oceans exhale with clarity.
Myself eludes itself,
Deep with chilling disparity.
I’ve yet to prove to that I am human.
My absence overwhelms my life.

Sweet gale of the Redwood forests
Tranquil eyes of the auburn hawks in the sky
Sincere Pine trees of the North
Let injustice force you to come forth.

There is always a good fight to be fought
Blood, if we possess it, will always be shed for the necessary.
I’ve made my amends with that.
Trust and respect are the only cures
For man’s need for barbarity.

Here I take two steps forward
And ten steps back.
Cracking open my perception to time and history.
Allowing for my soul and all souls before me
To come with me and see
That time is infinite,
With or without us.
That we in life hold the power
Of our continuation.

A sage took his son for a walk
The sun was high in the sky
While birds soared below the clouds
The sage looked down on his son
Proud to have brought life upon the land

He imagined himself a tree
His son an acorn
Then he imagined his son as pollen
And destiny being the bee
Who would one day carry him away
To a place that would be his son’s future
He then imagined that all things in this world
Are so desperately similar
That to destroy anything or anyone
Would be destroying only a part of oneself

The river runs like our blood does
The earth rumbles much like our stomachs
A volcano explodes much like our hearts do in love
And our bodies turn to dust
Like the ash from a tree enflamed turned to embers.

We are:
Like the flower
Like the rock
Like the whale washed up on the beach
Like firsts lights reach.

The sage and his son
Sat upon the edge of the mountain
And observed mad spinning life

The sage with his son
Thought not about God
Thought not about Mother Nature
Thought not about man’s need for conjuring reason
The sage with his son simply sat and watched

And
As the sun dropped behind the end of the World,
He imagined himself as a clam
And his son
A shining pearl.

theparisreview:

image

“It’s the loss of everyday, affordable things that hurt most. That’s when a world vanishes.”

Sadie Stein on gentrification

Simon Perchik

*

It’s only a few minutes
but they add up as bedrock
and from behind swallow the Earth

whole –this watch is always late
though its slow climbing turn
has nothing to do with this sunset

strapped to your wrist
while the other hand waves goodbye
running into bad weather

as if all it can retrieve
is hillside, sure you will lean back
slower and slower without any closer.

*

What chance does this moon have
the way for a few hours every day
not one drop makes it back, held down

as the thirst that never lets go
and you swallow hillside into hillside
–a few hours! that’s all and the moon

still trying, takes from your jawbone
some ancient sea half marrow, half
no longer flowing through as moonlight

heavier and heavier with the entire Earth
backing you up when the moon is lifted whole
from inside your mouth, to be returned

then gather you in for the fire
that is nothing without the night sky
still claiming you with headwinds and rain

even when there is no rain
–there is no fire left though the moon
never dries, clings to your lips

the way this dirt drinks as much as it can
and everything it touches is want
–you don’t have to empty all these flowers.

*

You bang the rim the way skies
loosen and this jar at last
starts to open, becomes a second sky

though under the lid her shoulders
wait for air, for the knock
with no horizon curling up on itself

as sunlight, half far off, half
circling down from her arms
end over end, reaching around

making room by holding your hand
–it’s a harmless maneuver
counter clockwise so you never forget

exactly where the dirt was shattered
hid its fragrance and stars
one at a time taking forever.

*

You kneel the way this sky never learned
those chancy turns the dirt throws back
as breezes, still warm, scented

with what’s left from when the Earth
had two centers, one blue, the other
footsteps, half random, half gathered in

for stones no longer moving
–you begin each descent
unsure, around and around, entangled

as if roots would nudge the dead closer
again into your arm over arm waving goodbye
with one more than the other

–it’s how you dig, folded over
and your shadow deeper and deeper
already reeks from far off and wings.

*

You have to let them fall
though once the ground cools
–this toaster is used to it

sure each slice will climb
side by side and even alone
you wear a fleece-lined jacket

set the timer left to right
the way the first sunrise
turned from what was left

–it’s still warm inside
and each hillside –you expect them
to burn, to break apart midair

making the room the dead
no longer need
though there’s no forgetting

why this crust just through
two graves, yours
and alongside in the dirt

brought to the surface
as the cold bread
that no longer hopes for anything.