Better Than Both, He Who Never Saw the Sun

It’s been three weeks since Cohen last left the studio. She’s been too busy, and there’s a chemical shower in the corner, and a sub shop that delivers round the clock, and someone left a cot here ages ago, so. She sleeps on decades of sweat from others too busy to leave, maybe, but who cares?

They took her leg when she was fourteen, dead rotting meat. She screamed when they touched raw flesh: she remembers their eyes, all whites behind red lenses, the long edge of their beaks, the ineradicable reek of burning oil. They let her live, that full of scruples.

This her latest is a self-portrait in plaster, a dragon’s nest of left legs hatched from the egg of her hip. She is smeared white with the making. When it is done — done enough, good enough, close enough — she stretches, yawns, longs for fresh air.

They are waiting for her outside, samaritans, eyes red and blank with the setting sun, beaks sharp with borrowed time. They let her live, that full of scruples.

Knowledge of Runes

Goddamn Shangri-La was what it was. No, I don’t know what it was really called, or even where it was. Didn’t give two shits when I got there, and when I left there were, uh, other things to think about. By the time I got my head back in the game I couldn’t remember , which they musta known’d be the case. I’m damn sure it was real; where’d you think I lost the eye?

Anyway. Easy pickings, I thought, like a jackass, just some flyspeck mountain town in the middle of the great American dogshit, but they saw me coming a mile away. Peeled me like the rube I was. Let me run all my little cons, my pennyante grifts, all smiles and vague accents and life’s savings, and I couldn’t see the noose at all, not until they had it good and tight around my neck.

Justice? They don’t waste their time with that nonsense. Didn’t matter to them what I’d done. Coulda burned the whole place to the ground, they woudn’t’ve cared. No, they just took my eye as a fucking teachable moment, filled my lungs half fulla water and turned me loose. Took me forever to get out of that damn hospital, and the whole time plagued by what the eye they took was seeing. REAL stuff, you know? Really real, not all this puppet show.

Still looking, though. Gonna get back there if it kills me. Figure I got the one eye behind the curtain, so to speak; what’ll they give me for the other one?

It’s A Lost Life Not Lived As You Wish

with apologies to George Cosbuc

The war has come to the city of delicate spires. Shells have fallen among the ancient libraries, shattered the marmoreal dignity of the Street of Statues; blood has stained the drought-stricken grasses of the city parks. The Ladies have put down their crystal cups and taken up arms—the muzzles of their guns peep between every wrought-iron railing, and each carries a knife of glass hidden in her sleeve. This is their city; have they not died for centuries in its construction?

Who to trust, though, when every returning soldier is a métoikos? Sign and countersign are useless here. The Gentlemen wear themselves out in rooms choked with tobacco smoke, blunt their canny fingers against enigmatic keyboards, but to no end. They are two tribes now; one that stayed, and one that went. Their grandchildren speak a foreign tongue.

They are pushed back, and pushed back, until at last all they hold is an airfield, and a city brutal with smoke, colonized with flames. They, ladies and gentlemen both, load one final plane, and fly north until the fuel runs out. The earth arcs up toward their windows, gravid with new beginnings, riddled with history.