You have always disturbed my nights, Homunculus, and I am making no mention of days here, for you’ll never have the slightest idea what they are. Both are one and the same to you, as alike as, say, the sun and the moon…
You thus deeply aggrieved me, Homunculus, when I spotted that laboratorial halo in your frail being.
I was a wretch at the time, young man; too diffident to sniff the scent of my victory. Nay, I even thought I had lost…
At times, your halo pushed me into doubts whether I should acknowledge it as such or not. Anyway, what good are my doubts? What matters now is but the fact that you are a made-up creature, threatening to pass your contrivance onto other embryos ever conceived in fertile, healthy wombs.
This is what scares me, Homun. This is what I am scared of…
Scent of Linden Blossom
After such a long time, scent of linden trees on the streets. Scent of linden! On occasion, greenery blasts in blossom when least expected.
I hurry to finish my errands before sunset, for, afterwards, bats give me the creeps, running against walls and getting nowhere!
It’s horrible to be robbed of your eyesight, my friend. Horrible!!!
“Why are you insisting to interrupt me, Homun? If the scent of linden offends your nose so badly, farther down, on the right of fall, there are some crags.
There you can sit and wait for your buddies, the bats…”
A lab is a woman, but not a mother, Homun. In there, songs hit the glass panes like meaningless sounds and the cuckoo’s call may reach you like a refrain of sirens.
A lab is merely a woman, my dear. The gestation within a shell’s womb swells up in skeletal dimensions.
A mother it will never ever become, as long as its wills be entrusted to the memory of leaves and infinite blueness be not accepted as the ultimate limit…
A Memory from Two Oak Trees
(instead of a good-morning greeting)
On the trunks of two oak trees up on the mountain, I and you, Homun, used to carve our names.
You wouldn’t stop laughing at Faust, while he toiled to engrave our names on stone: “Go, master Sisyphus, go!” you would cheer.
Today, I am taking a walk on these parts. Alas, our oaks must have been cut down long ago. Legible is but a FA in the quarry of sounds…
It Was Your Ultimate Role, Homunculus!
Incense of fire Incense of fire Incense of fire Through breezy fingers over two guitar strings.
The orchestra begins to heat up for no good reason…
I don’t dance that dance, Homunculus. Age-wise, I am a perennial leaf, and my every effort to arrest the air is rewarded with phantom flights.
Incense of fire Incense of fire Incense of fire Through breezy fingers over four guitar strings.
Neither should you dance that dance, Homunculus, a creature contrived as you are, nought born. One must love way too much to not perish altogether.
Dancers of your like got scythed by a gust of wind while, in extasy, they were busy cutting hyacinths. You are the last one of that dynasty, Homunculus!
Incense of smoke Incense of smoke Incense of smoke The guitar vanished in thin air.
Ah, my son, why wouldn’t you for once listen to me?! That was your ultimate role toward perfection, that was your single role…
Requiem to the Exile-Bound Light
(time: 6.59 AM)
Thirstisdrying even the shores to the last drop! Weak of vibe and wing,
the seagull is lost in doomsday thoughts
of her homelands soon to remain but memories. Vengeful pangs, of a darker purple than sunsets,
command her to silence, prayer, and back to silence. Amen!
Alisa Velaj has been shortlisted for the annual international Erbacce-Press Poetry Award in UK in June 2014. Her works have appeared in more than eighty print and online international magazines, including: Michigan’s Best Emerging Poets (USA), San Diego Poetry Annual (USA), FourW twentyfive Anthology (Australia), The Journal (UK), The Dallas Review (USA), The Linnet’s Wings (UK) The Seventh Quarry (UK), Envoi Magazine (UK) etcetc. Her poems are also translated and published in Hebrew, Swedish, Romanian, French, Bengali and Portuguese. Velaj’s digital chapbook The Wind Foundations, translated by Ukë Zenel Buçpapaj is published by Zany Zygote Review (USA). Alisa Velaj’s poetry book With No Sweat At All will be published by Cervena Barva Press in 2019.
my poor wife! all i ask of her is telepathy,
maybe some antlers, the ability to eat
glacier and spit out flame. lawyers on
radios say this happens all the time.
still i’m queasy about turning our
backs on the view off catalina. or
even a grub eating a leaf, nazareth
miracles on stained glass windows.
don’t tell the starving children
about the buffet left untouched,
the five-star gourmet dumpster.
skies as plush as a child’s toys,
mountainous clouds tumbling
down barton, farther down a
rust-coloured stain, relentless
as gangrene, and aldermen
building castles out of sand.
the sign says yield but i’m
too stubborn. in a frenzy
like before the evacuation
we take heat lightning
as a sign of the divine.
angels or mirages, go
ahead: surprise me.
Darrell Epp is a poet living in Ontario, Canada. His poetry has appeared in over 120 magazines on 6 continents. His third collection, Sinners Dance, was published by Mosaic Press in April. Read an interview with Darrell Epp.
I’m not wiping sweat from my forehead but cobwebs from the metal ferns; I appear to be drunk on 23rd street having forgot the name of my hotel again; I see the scaffolds around famous Chelsea her velvet claws sticking out like the hotels sharpened teeth dripping blood onto fire hydrants and the busy streets below;
I talk with bar-men who speak with two accents yellow cabs pierce tall smoky traffic queues I hear a city that never sleeps whisper to me down blocks of red brick and repetition of basket-ball parks where the smell of Cinnamon from a Deli drifts next to an Irish pub cooking fresh chowder— breathe in the smell and break the chains of morning;
I hear a city that never sleeps whisper to me, it’s time for bed.
Matt Duggan’s poems have appeared in The Journal, Into the Void, Lakeview International Literary Journal, Osiris Poetry Journal. Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry in 2015 with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10(erbacce-press) and the Into the Void Poetry Prize in 2016. He has a new chapbook out called A Season in Another World (Thirty West Publishing House) and has just returned from a reading tour along the East Coast of the U.S., including Philadelphia, Boston and New York, where he wrote this poem.
We meet at Tate’s off 4th street. I’m running late, and as I rush from the afternoon sun through the door, the darkness of the bar is almost overwhelming. Slowly, my eyes adjust to the ceiling of string lights, and I find Eric Wilson seated down at the far end of the room, contemplating a glass of bourbon.
He looks like a rockstar, with a black sport coat, t-shirt, jeans, and boots. His hair is high and tight and silver. He looks just like he did when I first met him as a grad student in the Wake Forest University English department. “You know what I loved about being a grad student?” he had asked us during orientation, leaning back in his chair. “The professors didn’t give a shit.”
From that moment on, I was a fan. I read his essays that appeared in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. I devoured his books of creative non-fiction: Everyone Loves a Good Trainwreck, Against Happiness, and Keeping It Fake. In his writing, I quickly found a model for how I, too, wanted to write—an encyclopedic lyricist, but also honest, direct, and kind.
His newest book of fiction, Polaris Ghost, is closer in vision to William Blake, closer in tone to David Lynch, but unmistakably still Eric Wilson, a crafted persona he parodies and ultimately dismembers.
[Noted in this interview are Alex Muller (AM) and Eric Wilson (EW). Later, they are joined by a barfly named Will. This interview has been condensed and edited, slightly, for clarity. I’ve mostly removed my own dumbass interjections of “cool,” “that’s interesting,” or “I see.” Occasionally I’ve made notes in brackets, as I did here.]
AM: Thanks again for doing this interview.
EW: I’m glad to do it. I like talking about myself
AM: Who doesn’t, right? Well, cheers to you.
EW: Cheers to you too, Alex.
AM: Now what are you drinking again?
EW: It’s a kind of bourbon.It’s called “Bulleit.” It’s called—embarrassingly—it’s called “the frontier whiskey” because the bottle looks like it might have come off the Deadwood set. And it’s not spelled “bullet” like you would expect—it’s b-u-l-l-e-i-t. [Laughs]
AM: Oh, I gotcha. That’s good. I would have spelled it the plebeian way.
EW: Of course when I think of bullet, I don’t think of the bourbon but of the great Steve McQueen film. [Spelled Bullitt, interestingly enough]. It came out in like 1967, when McQueen was at the height of his cool. He plays this kind of world-weary, melancholy, nihilistic cop who is offered the luscious love of Jacqueline Bisset. But all he cares about is his bullets. [Laughs] It’s like if Camus wrote cop films. That’s what this would be.
AM: Yeah, so I’m kind of a film novice, but I have been on a pretty big Lynch kick recently. One of the parallels that’s been drawn between Polaris Ghost and Lynch is Blue Velvet, which maybe we can talk about in a moment, but a couple of the Lynch films I’ve checked out recently have been Dune and The Art Life. So I’m interested in connecting to—well, maybe not Dune. But definitely The Art Life. Your postscript in Polaris Ghost refers to that book, which influenced Lynch and gave him the title for that documentary.
EW: So for my postscript, I made up a quote from the guy who wrote The Art Life—whose name I can’t remember at this point. But I thought it would be interesting because my epigraph was from Blake’s art teacher, Basire, which I also made up! But in doing so, I’m following the lead of Edgar Allan Poe, who more than once made up an epigraph attributed to someone real. I just love that idea of creating a kind of fake authority.
The book has what I would call a kind of gnostic sensibility, meaning it’s very much pushing against any kind of oppressive thought system. And to me, the most oppressive idea in the West is the idea of a cogent, unified, autonomous self. So the book’s interested in exploring a self as irreducibly fragmented. There’s this idea that there are authorities who pass down knowledge to individuals that shape them. I was just trying to play around with that by making up these fake authorities. And they’re kind of inside jokes because I doubt really anyone would know, which is the same as Poe—no one knows.
So, The Art Life is interesting. I did look at it at some point, even though I don’t remember the author’s name. It’s almost like a self-help book. It’s like a collection of aphorisms with this kind of “aw shucks” American spirit. It’s like if Emerson crossed with Norman Vincent Peale wrote an art book, that’s what it would be. “Get up and go today, boy! Atta boy!” Which is very Lynchian, you know. As Mel Brooks said, Lynch is Jimmy Stewart from Mars, so Lynch himself is always saying things like “golly gee” and “gee whiz!”
But that’s what makes him so weird, right? Because he’s this avant-garde filmmaker, but he comes across as if he’s still living in 1956 Montana. And in his publicity line, he often writes “Eagle Scout: Missoula, Montana.” As if those are the most salient facts about him.
AM: That’s true. As if it’s like his MFA program or something.
EW: But that’s what’s so cool about Lynch to me, because in his film and in his persona I never know if I should be serious or laugh.
AM: I think that’s interesting in the context of your work as well. You know, I’ve read what I call the Eric Wilson Trilogy, starting with Against Happiness, then Everybody Loves a Good Trainwreck, and Keeping It Fake.
So, one thing I was surprised to find in Polaris Ghost was the subject of grace. You write about grace pretty extensively in your other work. But fairly early on in Polaris Ghost you have a father telling his daughter, “This is grace. It’s a stroke of luck that saves you from dying.” And when I read that, I was kind of taken aback because I didn’t expect grace to come up here. After finishing that chapter, I wasn’t sure how seriously to take it—if it was a sincere form of grace or something else.
I wonder for you how grace factors into this work.
EW: Okay, good. That’s great. So, I guess I’ll start with what I would call “serious grace.” Now, really that comes out of my reading of Blake. In my book My Business Is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing, and also in my memoir The Mercy of Eternity: A Memoir of Depression and Grace, I see grace in a pretty traditional way. If justice is a world of cause and effect, grace—connected to mercy—kind of breaks that up.
It connects to that great moment late in King Lear when Lear sees Cordelia. He kind of gains his senses for a second and says to her, basically, “You have much cause to hate me.” And she says, “No cause, no cause,” which just captures beautifully this idea that mercy and grace push against causality. And in a way, therefore, break the idea of temporality entirely.
AM: So it’s kind of gnostic in that sense, then, like you said before.
EW: Yes! And I would even go further and I would connect it to—well, kind of a darker version of this: If you read Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be,” he’s constantly using the infinitive. It’s like he won’t conjugate a verb. And Keats does this at the beginning of “To Autumn.” So, the infinitive, it’s like a verb not yet tensed, and it suggests a kind of infinity, and I feel that’s kind of what grace does. It lifts us up to infinity, to this state of pure potentiality, where you’re not yet tensed into past, present, or future.
AM: I’m wondering if the openness of the text would kind of be a form of grace itself—this kind of splitting of this Polaris figure and these fragmented identities.
EW: I think it’s a very sophisticated understanding of the book that I myself didn’t even imagine, but I’m thinking of it now.
I saw the fragmentation more as a kind of self alienated from itself, and therefore in despair. But I like to think—there are these moments of vision in the book—let me back up.
One of my favorite films is Last Days, directed by Gus Van Sant. And it’s about the last days of Kurt Cobain—loosely. It’s a film about all these 20ish-year-old people who are totally disoriented—
[At this point, a young man a few chairs over from us at the bar interjects. He introduces himself as Will]
Will: Excuse me, you guys are talking about writing. Do you mind if I just sit here and listen? I’m having a hard time hearing you from my seat over here and it sounds very interesting.
[We introduce ourselves and catch him up on the conversation, The Arrival, Polaris Ghost. One of my favorite Modest Mouse songs starts playing in the background].
EW: So, all of these alienated, despairing 20-year-olds, one of whom is the Kurt Cobain character, are totally disconnected from anything significant. But then, occasionally, you hear this weird ambient sound of chimes ringing, or trains, or children singing. No one else hears it. It’s like this other realm that no one else gets—and this movement is a soundscape symphony called The Doors of Perception.
Only at the very end, when the Kurt Cobain character is getting ready to walk into the greenhouse to commit suicide, he turns around as if he hears the chimes. It’s like this visionary world that just floats above this world of fragmentation.
So there are moments in Polaris Ghost where I discuss moments of polar discovery, and those are meant to be those moments of this world of unity and light that Polaris isn’t getting. So I like the idea that the fragmentation, like in Eliot’s The Wasteland, suggests a panorama of futility, but also there’s the possibility that the very breaking up of self opens up the possibility of a reformation of something new.
AM: Yeah, in Ben Lerner’s work he connects it to Giorgio Agamben’s idea of “the coming community,” where, like you’re saying, there’s this hovering world, almost the sublime hovering world, that’s superimposed over our own. And these glimpses where we see how they come together are both fragmented and unifying.
EW: I mean, it’s a very Christian idea. That only by having the body ripped apart can the spirit thrive. It has a long history, and a pre-Christian history—you have the descent into hell with Odysseus—that only when you go down into the darkness and become dismembered—like Odysseus, like Dionysus also, and Yeats says it too—something has to be torn and rent before it can become whole.
AM: I’m wondering too—at first in my mind this was an unrelated question, but now I’m wondering if it’s related. [I turn to Will]. This is a total spoiler alert—are you into Twin Peaks at all, Will?
Will: Is a fish—uh, YES!
EW: As a fish takes to water, you take to David Lynch?
Will: Well, the new stuff gave me too much of an existential crisis in the first three episodes for me to continue, but I plan to go back to it in about six months.
AM: That’s understandable. Well, don’t listen to this question because it’s one of the final scenes—
[Will sticks his fingers in his ears].
That last scene in the new season, the scream. I’m wondering about that moment of utter anguish, where this character has become two different identities, and there’s this scream that’s both kind of a moment of realization and unity, of things coming together, but also total disparity—and despair.
I was wondering about the scream in that moment, possibly in connection to the idea of being ripped apart, and also in the very end of your book, when the husband who’s become a boar is coming back to himself and making this animal sound—or trying to—and that incredible last line: “if anyone could have heard it, it would have been a sound that was almost human.”
EW: So, one of the reasons Lynch likes crying so much in his films and in Twin Peaks—you know the Pilot, everybody’s constantly weeping—weeping for Lynch is a bit like screaming. It’s like a pre-linguistic or an alinguistic expression of a powerful emotion. And I think one of the reasons Lynch is so skeptical of language, both in his films and in person, is that he has the sense that language is always abstraction. It always removes us from an experience. The minute you can talk about something, you’re not that something anymore.
So I think that in some ways that scream at the end has that same power. On the one hand, it’s horrifying. It’s terror. But on the other hand, there’s a sense of breakage in normal ways of making sense of the world through language. So there could be a sense of something-else-ness that comes with the scream, that can often come with the crying. I mean, it goes back in some ways to Lynch’s interest in surrealism and Dadaism, this idea that meaninglessness has a kind of power. Because if meaning is always linguistic, it’s somewhat oppressive. So meaninglessness can be liberating in some cases—screaming, crying.
I guess that’s what I’d say about that right now, but I think it does have that duplicity you’re talking about. It’s horrible, but it does suggest there’s something else beyond our normal ways of making sense of the world.
I would say that the experimental qualities of Polaris Ghost—I think it reads clearly from page to page, but overall it’s quite enigmatic in ways that I’m not sure I can explain. And I don’t really care because I was really suspicious of “meaning,” you know, theme and motif, symbol and allegory. And that’s one reason I got so interested in fairy tales—the book has these seven weird kind of fairy tales.
Fairy tales are these vehicles of very traditional meaning or morality, and I wanted to set up the expectation that “this is a fairy tale, there’s going to be some greater meaning,” and then in the end there’s nothing at all.
But there’s a difference between confusion and ambiguity. Confusion’s when you see a movie or read a work of literature and you’re like, “What the fuck is that?” And you’re ready to walk out. Whereas ambiguity, to me, suggests lots of potential meanings, but you can’t quite get to them.
AM: We’ve talked a lot about fragmentation, but when I read this book, having read some of your previous work, it feels so cohesive in certain ways—in the sense, perhaps, that this is the book that you were always coming to. This is the book that was always on the tip of your tongue before. Is that something you thought about as you were writing it?
EW: Yes. Very much so. Well you know, you’ve read my philosophical essays and what you call my trilogy, which is a very flattering thing to say. Were you at Wake when Brian Evenson read?
EW: So that was a fucking watershed moment. It really was a huge moment. So, I heard the reading, and he read this story about the two girls who both experience the absence of the parents in radically different ways. And I just thought, “Wow.” It’s like he’s going into an ordinary situation of childhood sadness, but going into it and describing it in such a way that feels like a fairy tale from 3000 years ago. And then of course he read that story about the woman fucking the mime. [Laughs]
So I immediately got the book Fugue State and I read it. And it opened something in me. I was like, “Fuck. You can write fiction that way?” I mean, I know Kafka did it, but. So, I immediately wrote what became the boar story, like three days after Brian Evenson read. And then I wrote the first two stories, the one about the boy wanting to see the dead boy and the one about the boy finding the dead cat, or the dead things under his bed. It just came.
And I just thought, yes. This is what I’ve been wanting to write, and I’ve been afraid. I’ve been hiding behind ideas and theories and nonfiction. And those are fine books and all, but I really felt like something was released. I felt like I was born [Laughs] to write Polaris Ghost.
I mean, not all of it came so easily. But Hawthorne said of The Scarlet Letter, “I more and more came to see the writing of that book as a form of music.” And he said, “All I had to do was get in the right key and I could write forever.” In other words, it’s not the plot, it’s the voice. And I kind of felt that way about Polaris Ghost, with the kind of deadpan voice in the fairy tales. I felt like I could write forever, like 1000 pages in that voice. It just felt so right.
So, in some ways, I feel like Polaris Ghost is my very first book. [Laughs] My first real book.
AM: I love that idea of music. I was also interested in the voice you adopted—and kind of crafted—in these stories. There’s several voices, but the two that I’m most interested are the kind of straightforward fairy tale voice—“I am doing this, we will do this, and then we will do that”—and the other is almost like an inversion. And that comes through a lot with Ella, where you get all these introductory clauses that lead up to the final meaning of the sentence. But by the time you get there, you’ve almost lost the train of thought.
And I’m wondering, to come back to your previous point on the infinitive and the infinite, if that inversion is a play on that?
EW: Well, it wasn’t consciously, but I think in terms of these voices that makes sense. What’s appealing to me about what I’m calling the “fairy tale” world is that there’s this sentence to sentence simplicity and clarity, where I know exactly what that says and exactly what that says. And then where you get to the end—if it’s an interesting fairy tale—you’re like, “What the fuck?”
So that voice was more declarative. And I was going for a more deadpan, meaning removed, as if it’s a kind of folkloric voice. As in, I might be telling this story around a fire or something, but it’s not about my subjectivity. It’s more about me voicing the story.
Now, the Ella voice is a much more lush, lyrical voice that I wanted to suggest. Well, Emily Dickinson was really behind that: “I dwell in Possibility— / A fairer House than Prose—” And Dickinson’s idea that the poetic pushes against the prosaic. So, I wanted Ella’s voice to be lyrical and almost inscrutable.
And so, whereas the fairy tales are paratactical—“I did this, and I did that,” etc.—the Ella stories are more hypotactical—“Although she did that, he did that.” They’re more dependent on that subordination where you can lose the meaning. But it’s less about the meaning and more of a reverberation, like you only get the meanings as they kind of echo after you’re done with the sentence.
AM: Because of that effect with the language, it forced me to go back and re-read, especially at the end of certain chapters. I would get to the end and then have to go back to find where I had lost what was happening.
So, this was one of the many senses of doubling, for me as a reader, where you have both the expectation of what you’ve read and the reality of what the text says on the page.
To give you an example of that, one of the coolest moments for me was at your book release back in March, at Bookmarks. And you read one of the first pieces I had read from this book, the chapter “Oddity.” I had originally read it when you shared it on Facebook, so as you were reading in the bookstore, I was grinning like an idiot, following along with my memory of where the story was going. But by the time you had gotten to the ending, I felt like there used to be more to the story.
So, you have all these examples of women throwing jewelry—rings, necklaces—I was almost positive the earlier draft brought in Laura Palmer throwing her locket in Fire Walk With Me. Was that ever part of it?
EW: Wow. No, but now I wish it was. I think it definitely connects, but no, it was never in there.
AM: Well now the mystery is solved.
[At this point, Will brings up how the locket in Fire Walk With Me is depicted differently than it was originally in Twin Peaks, and we talk about how David Foster Wallace was one of the few who had praised the film, specifically for its redemptive representation of Laura Palmer’s subjectivity.]
AM: Well, to come back to Lynch. One of my favorite moments from The Art Life is when he describes bringing his father down into his basement, where he was keeping all these jars of bugs and just kind of grotesque experiments. He was so excited, for whatever reason, to show them to his father. And as they’re coming back up the stairs, his dad says to him, “David. Don’t ever have children.” [Laughs]
I can appreciate that moment, where your family is legitimately concerned because of these things that you’re creating. That anxiety shows up throughout Lynch’s work—probably greatest with Leland and Laura Palmer—and I wonder how you feel about that with your own work.
You’ve written a lot about your daughter in the past, and she appears in this book as well, although somewhat transmuted. So, on some level she’s your daughter, but she’s also an element of your psyche—as is the wife, as are the other characters throughout the book. And I’m not trying to conflate you with the narrators, but I wonder what it’s like to write about your daughter.
EW: Not that one should engage in biographical criticism, because we totally shouldn’t, but yeah, I guess that fear in Polaris Ghost came from a fear of losing my daughter. You know, my marriage was falling apart, and I was afraid that I would lose my daughter.
But the book is also very much about the loss of innocence, almost in a Lynchian sense, and also a desire for innocence, a desire for pure possibility separate from cause and effect. And separate, in a way, from time itself.
But there’s also this idea that the daughter is a kind of sign of innocence, if innocence is pure possibility. So to lose one’s child—there’s the pain of losing the child, but it also symbolizes a loss of something deep within the self, the sense of possibility. And without possibility, where are we? In Hell. As Dante says, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” and what is hope but possibility?
“Winter Storm Walk before the Blue Sky” by Brian Michael Barbeito
There was nobody around and we had the place to ourselves. It did not look like late March, that much is for certain, as the storm let out snow to cover most of the woodlands and the wind sounded off like a roaring sea, or I suppose, like the wind itself. Yesterday we had gone to another entrance of Highway 48 that, in look and on paper, was just the place for its large space and many paths, easily accessible parking lot and its overall placement and mise-en-scene. But it wasn’t. It was only mediocre for us. We got a bit of exercise and a required walk, but that’s all it felt like, – dutiful, average, fine enough. Today we were bent on getting back to our old and more regular stomping grounds. Can it be that similar forests, only a few miles apart, can carry such a different hidden vibration or spirit altogether?
It seems to be the case.
We were then in the right place. And we went along long paths and over little summits, beside a deep valley and past gorgeous black creeks that were foiled and juxtaposed by the preternaturally bright white snow. The dogs ran and sniffed, played and explored and we were all basically back near and on and around and in our old stomping grounds so to speak. I saw some Chaga, and an old abandoned car. I walked widely to the South, North, East, and West, and we covered much, much, much ground. The air and the atmosphere felt clean and untouched, magical even in parts. The psychological sets, or kind of psych, that societal ambitions put on people, did not get me, was what I thought to myself on the way back. My peers and family, teachers and bosses and others, – could not make me conform or buy into their mindset, try as they did. I didn’t and don’t, and shall never want what they are selling. Sure I need a few of their things, several of them in fact, – but it’s that much only and no more, – those items and services in order to maintain as much freedom and creativity as possible.
Well, the storm let up near the end, and I kept glancing up at the blue of the sky that was peaking down from the otherwise verdantly opaque firmament that the trees conspired to make. Hmm, I thought, that is something, that simple plain color blue that sometimes infuses the whole sky over. And I could only wonder then why the entire world does not stare constellation-moon-sky-bird-sun bound all the day and night long.
Gavin walked into the house to hear Brody’s barking, howling and hard breathing. He was probably in heat. He wouldn’t be surprised, even for a neutered hound Brody had to be the most affectionate thing in the room. Like a clingy drunk girlfriend that’s too comfortable in the living room of an Easter Sunday gathering, Brody would see an upright leg and go to town and then some.
Walking through the newly refurbished kitchen, a granite island table with coned lights hovering from the paneled wood ceiling, Gavin heard Brody’s frantic sprint downstairs. Even though the kitchen was different, more modern, Gavin had the queer feeling of traveling back in time to when as an eight-year-old begging to go over to Boujean and Estefania’s to visit the seven-week-old Brody and play with him on the creaky kitchen floor. He half-expected to see his mini-self playing with mini-Brody, running circles around the island table with the chubby puppy trailing behind, should’ve opened the door more quietly.
Boujean and Estefania were always off on a mission trip. Aunt V heard of their impending departure and put a good word in for Gavin. They asked if he wanted to dog-sit Brody for a couple days but he needed to watch Brody since he couldn’t make rent anymore and badly needed some cash. Now of course Gavin would have much rather spent time away from this trove of childhood and adolescent milestones. He always used to watch Brody. He’d bring friends to raid the liquor cabinet, bring girlfriends to make out with on the couch when the owners weren’t home which was all the time. Gav’s parents knew what he was doing. At first they’d wait until the late hours for his return to scold him for sneaking off but after a while they’d just talk about it at breakfast like they were discussing the local town hall meeting no one would go to. So you went to see Brody? Yeah, he gets lonely. They’d accept this answer. Despite the inner shame of not supporting himself and feeling like he drew the card telling him to take four steps back, there was a comfort in walking up that clear spring morning staircase. Every inch held a memory, like on the patio seen through the kitchen’s French door. He remembered that blue wood landing before the steps leading to the patio’s grey stone walkway paralleled by eclectic flower beds where he kissed his first girlfriend for the first time. Gavin smiled as the afternoon shined on the landing’s blue wood paneling and he thought of how their lips were caught in her red hair. He could nearly feel the bump of a canker sore on the inside of her bottom lip.
Stop, they could show up any moment. That dog keeps staring.
I just wanted to kiss you is all.
Gavin hadn’t a clue what happened to her after high school. She might have become a nurse. Nothing went much further than that kiss but he always thought that was when he was at his most honest. Brody shattered the memory as he tripped and faltered down the stairs like a manic wolf wearing banana peel slippers. His loud breathing grew louder and gave the house an unnecessary humidity. Through the small foyer Brody stopped for a moment, to make sure everything was okay. Okay. Brody was a mixed breed and no one was sure what the hell he was. He had ears like a coyote and the physique of a yellow Labrador. Gavin joked he was part otter for having such a boxy face. Brody never liked that comparison. And his color was something of a mystery. Along with a naturally shaggy coat, he had random brown spots up his legs with huge splotches of black mixed in with a creamy white filter. He was an old dog that still thought it was fresh out of the puppy mill. Brody quickly gained the scent of the place for the three millionth time to weigh the situation, if any threats were near. Maybe Gavin was a threat. But that quickly dissipated when he gained the scent of a possible friend and he took off so quickly his back legs slipped again on the hardwood floor.
The front end of his body went forward while his hind legs wiggled around like the shaky wheel on every grocery store shopping cart. Gavin stood up just in case he’d get pounced on and have to feel the uncomfortable and furry humpings of his old companion. Sliding to a sit position on the black and white checkered floor, those big old eyes recognized the figure standing in the kitchen and screamed, Oh my goodness this is wonderful isn’t this wonderful yes another person hurray hurray! Hmm I recognize you what is your name what? Tiny Master? Yes Tiny Master! I thought you died you didn’t come back yippee Tiny Master gotten much bigger. Bigger Master you have fur on your face now too yeah cool I’ve been by myself for so long I thought I was the only one left pet me pet me please pet me!
Gavin gave a short smile, Hello Brody.
And he had to shove the bouncing mutt off his left leg because Brody got a bit too excited. Gavin gave him a pet once he calmed down.
Let’s get you fed, Gavin walked around the island table and it was as if he stepped over a trip wire. Crossing the table to open the cabinet under the sink meant it was food time, food time, food time. Brody’s coyote ears perked all the way up and he started breathing heavily. His otter face wore a smile from end to end with his large tongue hanging to the side. The dog started leaping his legs up and down in continuous false starts and stops. If Brody were in a dog competition, he wouldn’t even come in dead last. He’d chase around the boujee poodles or would ravenously lick the podium judge. It didn’t matter what time, day or night; Brody would start panting and bounding in place once someone circled the island table.
Fed? Fed? You said fed what’s that ohhh fed feed…Food! YES! Food food food food yes a big bowl don’t know the last time I ate but I’m hungry I’m always hungry Bigger Master! Hurry please hurry this could be the last bowl no one else can have it maybe I should put some in the backyard yes by my favorite plot where I wizzed this morning but no I need to eat it all before any others do I don’t trust Buster next door oh boy oh boy food! Gavin opening the cabinet only made the dog jump up and down with more force and enthusiasm. After that quick fit, Brody hovered over his caretaker. But Gavin saw a note from Estefania on the food container written in perfect English calligraphy.
It’s been so long! You don’t have to feed him today. We gave him his dinner early before we left. Remember, twice a day. Morning and evening. You know the drill. After hearing you were in town, Boujean and I were wondering if you would have liked to join us in providing aid to the people in the Garbage Favela of Lake Titicaca. But we thought you could spend some quality time with Brody. We might venture further down to the Tree Dwellers of Honduras if you’re interested. We’ll scope it out. Think it over. Don’t drink all the beer in the fridge unless you can pay to stock it up. Something tells me you wouldn’t be able to. LOL! Kidding! Drink all you want. Anyway, have fun while you are here and make yourself at home.
P.S. Watch out for the mice. We saw one in the basement a few days ago!
A rush of fearful adrenaline coursed through Gavin’s body. He was deathly afraid of rodents. So much so, the sight of them at the pet store would leave him catatonic by the goldfish. Once his mother, wrapped herself around him as he rocked back and forth when a Petco ferret ran loose through the lizard aisle. The savage beast mutilated three chameleons. Calm, calm, she’d say indifferently.
Gavin gently took off the post-it note and set it down by the sink as he began to experience the withdrawal of adrenal shakes. Standing straight up, he looked back to the spotty shaggy mutt wagging his crooked tail, Where’s the food in n your hand?! No? No food. You’re by the magic water thingy Bigger Master am I thirsty I want to chew the couch leg I’m so hungry where are you going where are we going?!
Brody, you’ve already been fed, Gavin reached in the fridge for two microcraft brews with extra hops for flavor. Boujean and Estefania enjoyed the locally crafted and Gavin took the chance to savor one, two, or six of the finer things.
Brody, Gavin was already exasperated by the dog’s boundless energy, You were fed several hours ago. Stop asking questions. Jesus, you don’t understand a word, do you boy? Well besides food.
Food I heard food where is it you’ve got food buried somewhere but what are you saying you’re making sounds but food I know food huh did you say my name I love you too! Gavin smacked his forehead and took a long, long gulp of the microbrew triple distilled IPA that was brewed in a log shack in Milford. At least that’s what it said on the bottle. He walked up the stairs and Brody followed him, jumping from time to time when his stiff old hips allowed to see if Gavin had any treats in his free hand. He didn’t, to the dog’s disappointment, every time.
The middle of the night and Gavin decided to put on another movie. Fourth one in a row but there wasn’t else much he could think of doing except play another jittery DVD and drink. Gavin and Brody sat on the big couch and popped in a Fellini. One of his black and white ones, so the dog wouldn’t feel left out not seeing any color. The coffee table Gavin rested his feet on had about nine or ten empty bottles. Milford bilge water was stronger than he realized. With his drooling stare and his ears independently perking up and falling down to the subtlest sounds of the film, Brody looked at Gavin to make sure he was still alive, good, still alive. He was drinking another beer. Brody might as well not have been there. Gavin’s drunkenness made his mind spongy and the flashing images of a poorly English dubbed Italian couple riding bicycles at dusk in their underwear—or maybe there were three or four of them—silkily streamed across the widescreen. Brody sat up on the couch, ready at attention. Gavin didn’t notice. The dog leaned his face close to Gavin’s lap and was pushed away. He couldn’t be bothered. The Italian couple discussed how the dusky moon made the woman’s breasts look beautiful, as they laid on top of each other under a street lamp. Their spotlight. Brody stepped down off the couch.
Gavin thought of the red head who put her head on his shoulder as they walked under the stars of a similar moon. He remembered the smell of snow. It was after he said he couldn’t wait that long and she understood, they kissed out of habit, laying her head on his disappointed, understanding shoulder. Gavin’s mother would say she always had this reserved nature. Brody put his head on Gavin’s lap and started panting with gaze and urgency.
But Bigger Master I feel something coming! Help!
What’s coming, boy…who’s coming? Come on, genius. Tell me what’s coming—
I don’t know what Bigger Master says but it can’t wait it can’t—
And Brody sprinted behind the leather couch. Gavin kept watching the Italians pretend to make love, like sex didn’t have pelvic thrusts in the 60s. Seconds later, he heard what sounded like a light drizzle but smelled entirely different, Goddammit, Brody. In his hurry he knocked over the bottles and they rolled across the hardwood floor, some falling down the stairs leading to the kitchen. Brody was startled and ran downstairs, barking at the chiming empty microbrews. Minutes later, the dog peeked his head over the top step to find Gavin laying down paper towels, spraying cleanser.
Brody stared and said, Sorry Bigger Master…Couldn’t help it I just want to make you happy and me doing that didn’t make you happy I feel bad for what I did I’m sorry… Just come. Come up here and finish the movie.
And the spotted, otter-faced hyena hybrid obeyed and panted through the fourth brothel scene of the second act.
An echo: Watch out for the rat. Gavin stands on top of the granite island table, blackness all around. He holds a baseball bat in his hands. Their tiny red eyes peep through the darkness. Brody’s festering carcass lies below, decomposition beginning to show his bare ribs. Gavin swings the bat, he feels movement. A great movement, pattering of many, they vibrate the table. Gavin screams but cannot, his voice is lost. He can’t hear himself. He tries to say Get Back but his mouth disappears. A tingling up his leg breaks the muted revelation. Their patchy, mangy bellies rub against his shins as he swings at them. But he only hits his himself. A sharp pain and the rats appear again, this time on his chest and they eat away at him. Through his shirt. Digging into his chest as they pin him to the cold stone. An echo of mother: Gavin the rats are here—And the musophobic woke up in a cold sweat, breathing and screaming. He had slept on the kitchen floor, passing out before he got another beer. Brody sat next to him as the darkness crept back on the cool floor, his panting lulling Gavin to pass out.
The blue wood on the patio had this permanent sheen. A clean finish that made the mornings extra cool even on a hot summer day. Gavin fed Brody who repeatedly told him that it was time to feed him and that he was hungry afterward, especially with every pass by the lonely table. How could he not understand that I heard him the first time, Gavin asked himself as his recovering wobbliness refused to achieve a centerpiece. Brody violently ate his food with a fish oil pill for his stomach lining. He ate it so quickly the bowl moved up and down the kitchen floor. The green morning of the backyard called to Gavin, the fresh air would do him good. Before going outside, he grabbed a morning beer and opened the door. Brody saw this and ran outside licking around his mouth for any morsel left.
Outside outside going outside! Things are outside! Oh my isn’t this wonderful being outside! Are we playing or are we running! Bigger Master you’re holding a sleepy bottle again! Those are nighttime—what’s that smell or that smell and what are those—
Brody sniffed heavily and barked at nothing. Well, not nothing. More the lingering scents from the creatures that wandered the backyard last night. Brody reestablished his territory by barking a perimeter and ran around until he got tired. He laid down on his back and rolled in the sunny green grass under a tree. Gavin observed this daily routine as Brody saw and realized and then forgot and then became overwhelmed by the expansive backyard. It was all his to wander around with all those aromas. Taking a deep, familiar swig, Gavin saw the backyard roll into a pond just beyond the thin line of trees twenty yards from the porch. He’d gotten poison oak there once and his parents scolded him for wandering. The derpy mutt was with him when the itching on his legs turned to burning. Brody knew something was wrong and ran for help. But this wasn’t his and Brody’s backyard to explore any longer, just Brody’s. Gavin had been away for far too long and the smell of him didn’t linger, the remnant of the self he left on that blue porch. When he’d run up those wooden blue stairs pretending he was skipping on a pond, finding Brody waiting by the back door ready to hear about his day at school and how there’s a red head who gave him a note to which he answered ‘maybe.’ What did Brody feel when Gavin didn’t come in the afternoons anymore? He was a stranger but Brody saw Gavin’s shadow and took it as whole. A dog couldn’t know any better. Brody wanted to continue their frolic from years back. Gavin only wanted to be left alone to numb his short lot. His phone rang. A number he didn’t recognize.
Hi there. Glad you picked up, He recognized her voice in the quick breath she took before speaking. The red head, after so long.
Wow. This is a surprise. Didn’t know you kept my number.
She sounded older, A lower octave of life lived beyond their town, I never get rid of anyone’s digits. Always thought, what if they call back?
Sounds like good advice. Maybe I should follow it. what’s up?
A pause. Gavin was a straight-no-bullshitter, Ha, mmm, uh yeah alright, I mean, with you being back in town and me being back in town, don’t you think that we should at least meet up?
I don’t see any reason why not. If I remember correctly, we used to date in high school and thought we were in love for two months.
He imagined her rolling her brown eyes, So magical. I put it down in my diary every day.
Happy to hear you haven’t changed, He smiled, Where do you want to meet?
Hmmm, maybe the Standing Crane. And maybe we could, She let out a fake, playful gasp, Drink alcohol things.
Gasp oh no, you’ve gone down a dark path since we last spoke…Are you still as pretty as I remember?
Hell no, I’m a hideous warlock. Pock marks everywhere and I have a huge mole on the end of my nose.
Gavin tried not to laugh, You got me all hot and bothered I’m on my way right now…So meet up around two or three?
She agreed and he hung up, like they hadn’t even stopped talking. All those years, five of them. He set down his beer to see Brody slowly walking up the porch steps. He was moving unusually slow. The now timid canine looked at Gavin like he pissed off a pack of wolves and they were coming to raid the house. Gavin up and asked, What’s wrong now, Brody?
A quick gag. An unsure, substantive belch and what came out was a thick stream of dark blood.
The kitchen was dark save for an unknown brightness coming off the floor. A polishing that broke through black, Boujean and Estefania were always ones for cleanliness. The patter of Brody’s long paw nails scattered any creature on or under the porch. For an animal so dependent on routine, he was unpredictable, sometimes his spotted vision would find chipmunks taking crumbs from under the table of a springtime potluck and Brody would pass them by. Other times he’d chase Chip and Dale around until the poor things’ hearts exploded. Gavin brought up the rear holding stacks of medical papers. Doggy charts, doggy treats, doggy owner brochures including a sponsored ad for doggy dentures. Brody pawed at the door as Gavin turned on the porch lights so he could have a few beers outside. He let the dog in and Brody started hopping around the house like he hadn’t seen the place in ages.
Oh boy, that was real real real fun we had the car ride then the big room with all the other dogs and cats! Cats! They don’t like me I shouldn’t have humped one of the cats! That was wrong…but there were other doggy dogs! So fun! But then the white white people with the neck things came in and put me on cold table didn’t like that I saw you were right there so it was better you were there, Bigger Master! Why did we go there are we eating yet do you have any more treats I love treats I love you!
Gavin had since sat down on the loveseat leaving half the lights in the kitchen off. A shroud covered his face not in menace but bewilderment. He had to cancel his lunch date.
I still can’t believe they said there was nothing wrong with you.
Huh what you say Bigger Master do you want a stick I can find a big stick let’s go outside!
Master’s love sticks! Or are we eating yet I thought I heard you say food food food!
No, Brody we’re not having any. Man, she sounded bummed. Did she think I was making up an excuse? I hope not.
Sooooooo what’s the next thing we’re doing are we sitting petting sleeping eating running chasing eating sleeping rough-housing eating sleeping petting walking?
The nighttime shroud exhibited by the half-lit kitchen had the cabinetry stare down in a worn, wooden frown. Darker and sadder but Brody’s lack of awareness punctured the mood, his shape moved through the dimness like a cross between a hound and a village idiot. Gavin felt the loveseat where the red head once sat on his lap as the sun went down and Brody fell asleep belly-up by the fireplace, that was the night they first kissed on the blue porch. His father called the house because he knew they were there. I don’t think she has the right attitude for someone like you, her humor concerns me, he said. And Gavin didn’t have anything to say to him, she was just outside the door and he was ready to walk her to her car. Gavin walked out and saw her in the night, how she looked back at him and looked down, a bit shy. When he came back home, father had changed the subject to whether he wanted to heat up some chicken or salmon for a late dinner. Gavin had his hands folded and Brody nudged his nose in between them looking for a rub, the master gave a loud grunt and pushed him away.
God dammit, Brody! Fucking stop it! No! Bad. Dog. Bad Dog!
The dog literally ran away with his tail between his legs to the other side of the kitchen, behind the island table. Brody didn’t know why he was being yelled at. Brody didn’t know much of anything. Gavin let out a self-effacing sigh for having been in this position, to have put himself in the mud where he couldn’t break away. He stood up to see what he could make for dinner. Opening a cabinet his eyes widened to find a long, pink tail hanging over the shelf.
He remained silent and saw next to a box of noodles, a rat. It was the size of his forearm. It turned around and smelled Gavin’s fear and made a snake-like hiss. Gavin got on top of the island table and started rocking back and forth in a fetal manner. He didn’t want it to be real but there it was. Brody circled around the table and saw the rat now on the floor, looking for a dark corner to bide its time.
What! You make Bigger Master afraid! No! Bad! Come here!
Gavin hyperventilated and covered his eyes and tried to cover his ears at the same time. In the midst of the confusion he heard a gnarling bark and responsive hiss. Not soon later there was gnashing and the high-top kitchen chairs got knocked over. Barking and pattering and Gavin’s heavy breathing—Then there was silence. Sitting up straight, still hyperventilating, he saw Brody standing over the mauled rat. The dog looked triumphant and tired at once. His gray mouth highlighted by the light film of rodent blood. Angry that it had to take a life. Proud that it was for his master. He turned around and had a deep cut across his boxy nose. And in those eyes Gavin saw that same look Brody would give him when he was sadly sick, not going to school because he didn’t want to be around anyone and the dog would stare at him while he slept. It was a look telling him he was okay, it was all going to be okay. Gavin descended from the island table, breathing calmly and held Brody’s head in his hands whispering, Good Dog, Good Dog. He lifted his hero up and carried him to his car. The vets were going to get a second visit.
String section died on the way in a bus crash going through a too-short underpass. Tubas pick up the slack since the clarinets are busy cutting themselves in the bathroom. An outdoor theater, and the awkward lack thereof allows a mute bird to sing in stuttered heaves perched on the soloist first chair: empty. Conductor flaps away at the pocketed orchestra like an infant clasped in eagle’s talons. The dog whistle quartet plays to the agony of strays skulking about Rome, about the theater; no one had played here in years. A trumpeter graces the stage late with the one-sticked xylophone hrumphing his three-beat G, G, G. Cracked notes blow through a rusty horn and he wishes he didn’t catch that last tube for the city’s Polis Necromancer, to the dead theater. The roadie uses his moment in the spotlight sun to not frill the wind chimes, but passes out in a pile of stray Schnauzers who couldn’t bear to breed with their sisters anymore. The wind takes his place and he sleeps soundly with the mange.Photography and Literature by Matt Gillick