Thursday, May 3, 2012


The young boy listens to his mother and his older sister fight. The boy is eight years old, and does not understand certain words that are spoken more viciously than others, like they were acrid, like they needed to be spit quickly out of the mouth. Words like: resentment, cruelty, abusive, rape. The last word is repeated over and over again in a variety of ways. It is hissed, it is moaned, it is abandoned. The boy watches from a darkened hallway and is not seen, in spite of his hoping to be noticed. He gives substance to the shadows. The boy is under the misguided impression that if he walks into the living room the fighting will cease, that someone will embrace him. He was having a nightmare. He left the room to be comforted. In his dream, hands and arms dripped from the ceiling like tar and held down his arms and his legs, they covered his mouth and his eyes. When he awoke he didn't scream or thrash his sheets but gasped for air, as though he'd been holding his breath, as though the dream with the hands was all the more real. That's when he walked into the living room. That's when he learned for the first time how much weight could be pushed from someone's mouth, how everything could change with a single utterance, a confession, a cry, one for help or attention. And with this newfound understanding the boy speaks. He says, "I," and then stops. He looks back and forth between his mother and his sister who have stopped fighting to stare at him. They say nothing. No one says anything. The boy has made mention to his existence, to his presence in the room, and the silence carries the rest. The silence, he learns, explains everything. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Baked Goods.

J.P. Henderhorff was old. But, more important than his being old, J.P. Henderhorff was comfortable. He was very comfortable. The old man had just settled into his large red recliner, the one that conformed so perfectly with his angular frame, that lovely chair, a gift from his grandchildren, a token of their love (though really an excuse not to visit him), when the fire alarm for his building went off. Rhythmic, grating shrieks, a howling banshee, a thin one, looking for crackers. But J.P. did not have any crackers. What an inconvenience, he thought. His breathing had finally slowed (sitting exhausted him), his back had sunken into the cushion, and he had just picked up the remote and aimed it at the television, his arm steadying to hit the blue button that would spring the black screen back to life. 

J.P. turned from what was almost the Golf Channel to identify the source of the noise. He finally noticed his apartment was opaque, that there were cloud shapes floating past the insides of his windows; and at first he thought the smoke was coming from the oven, that maybe his wife had forgotten a tray of sweets that was burning, until he remembered that his wife was dead, a fact he was constantly forgetting, one he oft caught himself in the middle of when shouted her name for her to come help him look for where he'd lost the remote control. 

(She had fallen down three flights of stairs, his wife, on her way up from grocery shopping, slipped on a slimy new egg that she dropped.)

J.P. let out an old man’s “Oh!”, the kind of sound flour makes when you pour milk into it, the sound something dry makes when it is both wet and dry simultaneously, and he rose from his chair, slowly, wincing in pain when both of his knees popped.

Pop. Pop. Pain. 

J.P. stared at the door in front of him. Smoke was sneaking through the gap at the bottom of the frame in billowy puffs. He thought about the stairs. All those God damn stairs he would walk down. Who says you can’t use an elevator in a fire, he thought. Who the hell says? And again the thought of the stairs exhausted him. There was no way an old man such as he would be able to walk eleven concrete flights, his knees popping painfully all the while.

Pop, pop, pop. He winced at the thought.

He bent forward slightly and leaned back, letting gravity take over. He fell backward into the chair and settled in, reassumed his comfortable position, closed his eyes. He breathed in deep through his nose and smiled. When the smoke started making him delirious, the smile grew wider: grew and grew in anticipation of the baked goods his wife would soon be waddling out him, her asking who was hungry while the platter smoked between her mittens protecting her thin and bony fingers.

Double A surname.

I had a dream about Anne Sexton last night. There's a name for you. Anne. Anne Sexton. We're supposed to be reading her poems for my Intro to Lit class. I opened the assignment late last night after I got home from work (thank goodness community colleges are so accommodating to the stay at home thirty-somethings) smelling like oysters, and fell asleep staring at the small black and white photo crested into the right hand corner of her biography. She was beautiful, I remember thinking, before I drifted off to sleep. So beautiful, Anne Sexton. So beautiful. 

In the dream I was working on an assembly line. Rushing past me, too fast for my hands to keep up, were hundreds and thousands of bananas. I know it's suggestive and freudian, but it couldn't be helped. Things were underway. The fast bananas are evidence of that. Anyway, the dream . . . 

The conveyor belt broke down while I was reaching for those speeding peels. Just started smoking and sputtering and then whistles were blowing everywhere and the boss -- a giant gorilla, I know, innate, right? -- sent everybody home for the day. It was gray outside in my dream. The clouds growled like an empty stomach and I knew soon the world would be wet as a seal's nose. I found my car and got in. I started to drive home, even though I didn't even know where home was in this town, picked a direction and turned on my blinker. After all, this wasn't my usual job. It started raining. I was driving and it was pouring and then there, walking in the thick of it, briskly, in a heavy green overcoat with her shoulders hunched forward, was Anne. Anne Sexton. I slowed down and pulled my car over closer to the sidewalk. I rolled my window down. 

"Anne," I shouted. "Anne Sexton!" She looked over. She raised her eyebrows. And you know how dreams are. She was in the car. Then we were in a trailer somewhere, which was strange, because I've never even been in a trailer, but somehow my brain knew just what to make one look like. The trailer was dark, dimly lit, with brown shag carpeting and awful looking green curtains -- the ones with those ratty looking tail things at the end of them? -- and I was brewing some tea and Anne, Anne Sexton, was sitting in a large recliner, a green plush one she kept sinking into in her green overcoat, which I had forgotten to take off and hang up for her. I kept trying to think of something to say. 

"Sorry about, you know, the mess," I said, gesturing to the tiny trailer. "But I don't even live here. You understand."

"Yes," she said, trying to make herself comfortable, pushing herself up by using the chairs oddly large arms for leverage. She grunted. "I know how it is." 

"Say," I said. "We're reading some of your poetry right now in a class I'm in." She turned her head sideways and looked at me, those shimmering silver eyes. It felt like someone had placed a coal on the back of my neck. That's how intense it was when this lady looked at you. She was something, that Anne Sexton.  

"Well," she pronounced, slowly, "What do you think?" 

I blushed. "I - didn't read them yet," I said. "I fell asleep looking at your picture."

She didn't smile. But, it was something with her eyes. She was smiling. They were smiling, actually. Her eyes. She was looking away from me, past me, through something, through the words I had just spoken, watching as they sunk through the air behind me on their way to the floor. She followed them. When they reached the carpet and sunk in like an old stain she nodded and said, "I could never love a man who's read my poetry." 

"Excuse me?" 

"I could never love him. He would know me. I think a man should think a woman is a mystery. A man should never understand a woman. A man should be able to make a woman fall apart in his hands like dry snow." 

The water I was heating for the tea began to boil. I took a step toward her. She was staring at me now. The burning feeling had moved lower, only the actual burning subsided. It was a low warmth now, spreading, too, along my thighs, trickling into my feet which felt lighter, suddenly, lighter than ever. I felt like dancing. I had never danced before. Or played the trumpet. But I knew I could then, if I wanted to. I heard it somewhere far off. Trumpets. A sea of them. A cacophony. But there was beauty in its discourse. I was going to dance with her to it.

I extended my hand. "Anne," I said. "Anne Sexton. Would you like to dance with me?"

She reached out and grabbed hold of me and it was only then, when I saw the contrast of her skin on mine, did I notice she hadn't colorized. She was still in black and white. She tightened her grip around my hand. "I don't want to dance," she said. She bit her lip. "Come here." She pulled me down to her with strength and ease. The ease I had expected. The strength I had not. She slunk into the folds of the recliner and disappeared. She pulled me down until my face was resting against the back cushion in a way that was quite uncomfortable. Even in a dream it didn't feel right. When I tried to pull away her legs shot out of the folds she had just disappeared into and wrapped around me, pulled me in close. "Take me," her voice whispered from somewhere behind cushions. She slid her feet along my back and they made their way up my shirt.

"Oh!" I yelled. "Anne! Your feet! Your feet are freezing!"

"Ignore that!" she said. "Take me! Take me now!"

"Maybe we should go to the bed!" I said, pushing away from her so I wouldn't be suffocated. "I think that would be more comfortable!" I looked around the trailer but couldn't seem to find any bed. It looked like there was only the kitchen to my left and the room we were in. There also didn't appear to be any doors in or out. 

"There's no time," she said. "Come into me!" She started pulling harder with her legs and soon I was buckling forward, folding inward, being sucked into that space between the recliner.

"No!" I said, struggling to free myself. "No!" I crumpled and heard a crunching sound and was falling, landed on a newspaper, was crumpled into a giant ball before I woke up with the sheets tangled around me, screaming into my pillow. 

I tried to tell me professor about what happened. About why I hadn't been able to do the reading. 

"You said the same thing about Plath and Dickinson," he said. "Why should I excuse you this time?" 

"This time was different," I said.

"How?" he said. "How in God's name is this time any different?" 

"Because this time when I woke up my sheets were dry."

My professor nodded, scribbled something into his notebook. I smiled and left the room. Though I wouldn't have smiled if I knew he was giving me an F. What a bastard.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Weather Patterns.

Really, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. People were being blamed for it, because blaming people felt better than having no one to blame at all, but, if you had to blame anyone or any one thing, it should have been the location; but even then it’s hard to place blame. How can you pinpoint a phenomenon?

Her mother placed both parts equal blame. She blamed her daughter for marrying a fulminologist and she blamed her son-in-law for moving her daughter to Florida.

The Son-in-law also blamed the daughter, his wife, for being so God damned stubborn, but he also blamed himself for trying to convince her that it could wait until morning, that they could use cell phones as alarms, that no one needed to get out of bed right this minute to run downstairs to trip the breaker. 

Right before she fell she blamed her husband wholly, though, she might have reconsidered and blamed herself for trying to prove a point, but, after her neck broke, there wasn't any going back on that kind of decision making. 

Her father blamed the carpet company for not pulling the carpet tight enough so that the fall might have been avoided. 

The carpet guy blamed his drug dealer for running out of the regular stuff he smoked and so he had to pay extra for the stonger stuff that made him lose his concentration. 

What’s really amazing about all of this is that during the course of the blaming no one thought to blame the storm that brought the lightning that knocked out the power that angered the wife that stirred the argument between her and the husband that compelled her to get out of bed and march down the stairs and fall to her death because after all -- who can predict a phenomenon?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hard Skin

The first one she collected came to her; fell into her lap after the man sitting next to her on the subway clipped it off with no regard for where it would land or how far it would go. She looked down at its simple complexity, at its crescent moon shape, at the specks of dirt and dust on its underside and thought to herself: This is the piece of a person. Not wanting to attract attention, she placed her hand over the fingernail that had taken residence in the dip of her dress and waited until the man rose from his seat and shuffled out the double doors. When it was clear she placed the fingernail in her purse where it would remain until she arrived home, where she would place it in a jar and label it with the day's date. This curiosity became an obsession, and after only five months, her apartment was crammed full of jars full of fingernails.

It was on a Friday in November when she learned about the meetings, her co-worker, two cubicles over, a fellow collector, saw her picking a hangnail off the carpet with a pair of tweezers and decided to invite her. "I want to show you something," he said, gesturing for her to follow him to his workspace. He opened a desk drawer, and inside were dozens of eyelashes, pressed between thin sheets of glass, as if he were preparing to view them under a microscope. "They're only ones people have blown away and made wishes on," he said, beaming with pride. "How can you tell?" she asked. He made a face at her that suggested confusion. "It's a very delicate process," he said. "You know that." She didn't, but she nodded regardless and said, "Oh, yes, of course."

At the collector's meetings that met once a month, people pulled out delicate containers and viewing cases, each with only single things inside of them. Her co-worker passed around an eyelash labeled "despair," and explained to everyone that the person who blew on it had wished that their loved one would wake up from a coma. People murmured in approval of his exposition. One man passed around a jar that was empty, but, when she held it it felt like it was full of angry bees. It was labeled "faggot," and he explained to everyone that he collected hateful slurs, and that this one was caught at a baseball game with his gay son.

Several other jars and containers were passed around, and, when it came for her, she pulled out her largest jar of fingernails which was simply labeled "fingernails" and attempted to hand it to the woman sitting next to her. But she didn't move. No one said anything. When she asked if she should pass it around the other way, again no one spoke until the silence became unbearable and someone piped up and said, "No, I think we get the idea." The woman to her right pulled out an empty jar and unscrewed the lid, held it near her face for several seconds, scooping it through the air like she was trying to catch a firefly, before placing the jar in her lap and sealing the lid shut. She taped a label onto it, scribbled the word "embarassment" down and began passing it around the room.

She, the woman with the fingernails, moved to leave. As she made her way out, someone bobbed the jar up and down in their hand. Before the door closed behind her she heard them say to the person sitting next to them: "This is just awful. I'd hate to be whoever this came from."

The Subjectivity of Taste

She was smiling in front of a structure that looked like it was stacked with hard candy, lime greens and lemon yellows, strawberry reds and orange melons, all laid out with concise precision on top of one another, and the bright colors illicited something in him, made his mouth water, made him thirsty for something, though he couldn't tell what, if it was the architecture or the girl, who stood there with her toes pointed inward laughing about something, some secret that he desperately wanted to know, but couldn't, but never would, because it was only a picture, because he didn't really know her, because he never really knew her at all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To Apprehend Eventuality:

Barreled over myself, in an attempt to stay warm, I am
Complimented on my glasses by a young woman and 
I ask myself:

Who is Robert Kunzig?
Who has had too much to drink tonight?

We are exactly what happens by accident, you know. I can’t
Catch you, or let you know anything about anything at all.

One day we will abandon our children to write poetry.
They will have more character without a mother.
Adolescence is only sociology, and childhood is overrated.

You wouldn’t have been a good role model, anyway.

You are not trying to look stylish, you think. You are 
Just trying to see.

Who’s writing this garbage anyway? Whose idea was it
To have a shift in perspective in the middle of a stanza?

I can’t believe I’m responsible for this. He’s a very sad young man.
It’s unhealthy to live the way he does. I’m alone in all of this, I say
In the dark.

It’s sad, you think.