The Cure

The first leaf, bright green, springs forth between her eyebrows and Brienne stares at it in confusion. What in the world?

She goes after it with the tweezers but it won’t budge. It doesn’t hurt to tug at it, exactly, but it doesn’t move, either. She might as well be trying to tweeze off her nose.

If she had the money—if she had the insurance—she’d go and get it looked at, but she doesn’t, so she doesn’t. She puts on sunglasses and pretends she has awful headaches and hopes no one notices. If they do, they’re too polite to say anything.

After a month or so it’s gotten too big for those tricks, so she calls in sick—they’re not happy—and she really goes after it, because what else can she do? She wraps her hand around the base of the leaves and pulls.

It’s not pleasant—it’s awful—but her skin parts around the root and she’s left holding the firm red weight of a radish. Brienne stares at it, her mouth watering in anticipation.

What Is United Must Dissolve

In bed and the hammer descends, shattering you awake. “Oh, fuck,” you say, and then you can’t do anything but quiver.

The edge of the bedside table is right there, right there, and you’re plagued with visions of how easy it would be to flex and crack the eggshell of your skull against it. Your eyes, mere jellies, could catch on the corner and pop pop pop! It’s a seductive vision, the Lear of your body hapless before the Goneril of your mind, take that, and you quiver with the desire and the fear, both.

Your every muscle is a high-wire act, strung possibly tight between buildings, and it’s only that tension that keeps you safe. Your traitor hands are ready to lunge for your condemned eyes, your exiled cheeks, but they’re far, so far away, and the whole country of you is in active revolt.

Minuteman

They tell stories about the outlaw, how he shot his father to death when he was only two years old—

“Just grabbed that gun out of his belt and shot him clean through the heart, pew, and him just barely old enough to walk.”

How he carried that gun in his own belt ever after, waiting for some child of his own to pull it out and drill him through the heart—

“Penance, they call it, but I say insurance that he’ll never have a kid. A reminder to always pull out, always keep his wits about him; the stakes are too high.”

How he shot a girl in church one time, shot her dead through a wall as he adjusted his belt coming out of a bathroom—

“Death in his veins, that one, death that lands on anyone foolhardy enough to come near him. You don’t blame a rattler for biting, do you?”

How he fell in love at last and had a child of his own, a boy that he loved more than life itself, and how he shot that boy dead in a shooting range teaching him how to shoot—

“Such a tragedy! Who could have predicted anything like that? A million to one chance, the heat of the barrel— the flinch— the ricochet— they say the boy was even more of a crackshot than his dad. Such a shame.”

How life went on, somehow— but at that point he passes out of history and into legend.

Duluth

Duluth, I was never in Duluth, but among the poets in Washington this story:

Having grown tired of selling clothes to the idle poor, the poet bought a bike and struck out for the high plains. He taught himself to ride on the backs of the Rockies, a continent’s spine, a fat man blowing steam up a long road and empty between towns, taught himself to fear speed and love it on the ride down, squeezed perilously between the Charybdis of a rock wall and the Scylla of a passing 18 wheeler.

Well, he made it, somehow, or so they said, to Duluth, and moved into a vacant space above a storefront where he sold used clothes to much the same people as he had in Bellingham and wrote poetry much the same as before except for some 1500 miles of toil and separation. Life went on, until it didn’t.

He died there, in Duluth, not quite in exile, nor yet at home, his store and his poems the legacy left behind. The poets in Bellingham held a wake in his honor, and Robert, cynical Robert, he cried while telling the story. Duluth, I never knew Duluth, nor the poet who left, but I’ve never forgotten this story.

Trash Baby

written at a concert

Rocky shores and icy waters: a thin plume of smoke finds the sky above the white lumbering bulk of the ferries.

Palmer has come to this shore, barefoot and nude, a flickering shape huddled against the railroad embankment, here between the trains and the Sound, to barter the remains of her youth against the death of her brother. The water’s vast eye turns to her in the darkness, and she cringes at the very edge of the firelight.

“Blood,” she promises it, “quick with life.” There is a stirring in the rocks and driftwood behind her, and she turns, addresses herself to the raccoon and possums that regard her. “Time.” She backs toward the water until it licks at her heels, he calves, her waist, her neck. “All that I have and more. Please.”

The mournful cry of a train whistle finds her ears beneath the waves; she opens herself to hope and sinks, sinks, sinks.