Mating Season

The year has turned once again and the dads have come back to the hills, as they always have, pulled by some mysterious force, some unspeakable compulsion. The journey is long and dangerous, and many dads arrive scarred and bloody from travel: missing eyes, severed hands, skin pulled away from the muscle underneath. One, near his end, is more scar than dad; in the half-light of evening you can watch the ponderous thump of his heart through the parchment of his skin.

“Good team this year,” says one, a young one, scratching an unfamiliar beard. This is his first year, and he is shy, eager, and dry for blood.

“Could go all the way,” agrees the old one, his milky eyes focused on nothing much, the puckered mouth of his wrist searching the air. “If they want it enough.”

The young one edges closer and shivers as that rough stump finds his shoulder. He closes his eyes, and thinks of the coltish daughter waiting at home, the yearling son hiding behind her. “Still, you never know.”

The old one laughs, deep in his hollow chest, and leans in close to the young one, his breath hot against his beard. “No, you know. You know.”


He breaks the water, the cold steel surface of the water, and hauls its unbounded body onto a convenient log.

We are grilling, I think, or maybe walking the dog, her paws thick with mud and her lips white with drool, swaddled in our coats. The rocky slither of the beach is everywhere; this is as full as things get in November. Gulls are everywhere, chasing after the ferries.

He holds it down against the wood, its arms clutching feeble at his arms, already drowning in the air, and coolly punches it to death. He makes eye contact, grins.

What are you doing, we want to know. Why did you do that. What is wrong with you.

Art, he says. For an assignment.

We yell at him. He shrugs.

It’s dead already, he says, who cares. There are tons more of them down there. Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow and get another one. More art, right.

Later he gets threatening calls, he weeps, he pleads ignorance. We forgive, the beach and the water, but we do not forget. Something should change, he says. This shouldn’t happen again.

Yes, we say, this is true. This is all very true.


Sarcoptes is swole to the point of bursting so she lands where’s convenient and digs her way in out of the air. The ground quakes as she digs, and the sun, what she can see of it, goes dark; oh, well.


Cestoni is born at the end of that tunnel, him and his brothers and sisters. The girls are homebodies, but the boys drive themselves out into the air where they don’t have to be quite so close to each other. The ground quakes where they walk. They build homes for themselves among the roots and stay there until their skin cracks raw.


Diacinto is pregnant. One of her brothers, probable, or not, it doesn’t matter. She found him, whoever he was, just emerged from his roots, so she pinned him and took what she needed, which wasn’t a name or much talk. She hurries on, one eye cocked to the sky, leery of rain.

Ellen Smith

Detective novels have lost their savor, but it’s been so long since she’s read anything else that Ellen isn’t sure what to do with herself. She’s wise to their tricks, that’s all; there’s only so many ways you can arrange a limited number of suspects, only so many ways to organize a killing. She’s seen it all: shootings, hangings, drownings, explosions, immolations, defenestrations. Bumped from a high place, buried alive in a low place, fed to ants and dogs and bristle-chinned pigs. For jealousy, for money, for revenge, for mania, for no reason at all.

Some cheat, which makes for a surprise ending but not a fun one. There’s nothing to put together ahead of time, nothing to suddenly fall in place, no moment when the clouds part and the sun shines down, just the stultifying wonder of a magician whisking a cloth aside to reveal your missing card. Yes, that’s the one. Of course.

She nibbles at real crimes, but shudders back. Out here, people die for too many raw reasons, killed in the street for a busted taillight, shot in the office by an abusive husband, hit by accident for no reason at all.

Near to Real History

The poets are at war with the police, and have been ever since Thomas Miller tore the shirt off the bull Bill Bigarini in the Coexistence Bagel Shop. Miller wasn’t a poet, but a painter of black churches who heard voices and had an eating disorder; you could see the points of his hips jutting through the tattered hems of his sweaters. Bigarini was a cop, though, through and through, a thick-necked son of Italy who’d flush red at the sight of a woman without shoes, which is what kicked off the fight where he lost his shirt. Wendy Murphy’s sandals had broken so she left them in a trash can, which didn’t sit right with the patrolman.

Anyway. Bigarini arrested Murphy, and broke Miller’s head; even shirtless he was a crack hand with a nightstick. The poets plastered the streets with poems, north south east and west: may their paperbag souls rot their nightstick bones.

“I ain’t a robot,” Bill Bigarini complained to the press, as his fellow officers stormed barber shops and gay bars to tear down the poems. “I have feelings, same as they do.”

Bigarini would later lose a bid for sheriff after getting charged for corruption; he’d taken bribes, like many an officer, to let the gay bars stay open. Miller would die of starvation in a 70s hotel, the day after his last church mural was demolished to make way for a tourist hotel in Japantown.