Narrative and The Animal Gaze

A deer laps at the shore,
unknowing that we cast our lures
to bait the deepest lip,
the life within the sea.

And with its thirst depleted,
the deer treads simply
the surface, not caring of all
that is frozen beneath and asleep.

For the beast there is
no life behind the current
but its own. No flicker behind
the eyelid of her.

There is no boy holding a lamp
between the pines,
the barks’ shadows as
slender fingers reaching.

No estranged mother,
her an hourglass within
an ambered doorframe, waiting
for her son’s glow to appear.

There is no father, struggling
beside the boy, hoping
he never has to grow to be
as strong and tall as elk.

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An excerpt from a long poem entitled, “It Takes Years Sometimes”

Four and fevered hallucinating 
pulling at mom's wrist screaming
don't go you'll die there 
are stormtroopers out there A summoning
of laser beams into 
her stomach sparking She flings her arms 
and collapses standing Bending down to me wounded smiling
‘the phone is in the living room  
Jesus, you're burning’ 
My bloat fingers pull her tighter
it seems what is 
is what isn’t but is and she
must not be mom to be 
so calm

Don’t let me the steamroller cylinder
spiked and barbed wired gore-ridden turn to toothpaste A road frog
Don’t be the frog
Don’t go outside mom Don’t get shot
Don’t get stabbed Don’t explode and turn to red Don’t go to my bedroom
there’s a giant mosquito I trapped under my dinosaur bones, okay? Just
    don’t don’t don’t
don’t let it happen but

she jokes with the fear 
I’ll fear from losing her 
                                              It isn’t funny Please understand
what is is what isn’t but is
until I get better

and forget
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Our Dumb Sister

Brown heap of ours,
ears of golden flippers
speckled white for years
I tried to breathe in pace
with you, struggling
to sleep in your later days.

There were days burnt,
spearing hot teary breath into my arms
and I’d hear the clack of your nails,
the slight creak of my door
as you pushed your black leaded nose, glinting
with disgusting snot gross I’d smile
as you dig your face into mine –
raspberrying through the rough tumble of your tongue,
and we’d wrestle til I’d forget my worries.

There was no dirt path you followed,
we’d find you twenty metres down a cliffside,
your fat butt stuck between
fallen branches and barks,
screaming at us you didn’t know where the fuck you were
cause you were so dumb.

My god you were so dumb!
So dumb it made our sides hurt sometimes. And then we’d worry
until you found your way back.

But you did that a lot – worry us,
lose us only to find us again. You were on the edge
so often – swimming
out to sea and forgetting which island
you left from. And we’d have to come get you – you
like some dementia ridden grandpa. We’d
play life guard to your thick skull laughing, not caring
we soaked the only clothes we came in
cause of you.

You were on the edge so often, I imagine
you looking over it, letting your drool pull at itself
until it split from your purple lips, twirling
like bolas thrown – you, ready
to spit on the void. Even when the poison seared
the edges of your blood,
all you had to do
was sleep it off. You made front page. And in a weird way,
we were proud of you.

You were on the edge
when you were being prepped
and prodded, mine and dad’s hands upon your
fur, fingertips through an auburn forest wintering, my eyes
divert to nothing
then come back,
get lost
and then come back, away they go
you won’t come back,
the syringe is loaded. Dad
says I can go if I want to and I do
without thinking scared and leaving you
to get lost for the last time thinking
too much that I’m not ready for this
knowing you won’t return
already sitting in the waiting room
my ribs cold and collapsing thinking
is it too late to return to you
as I nothing wait for nothing
but your nothing. All I had to do
was be in that room. To do as you had always.
To come back.

There is no greater wrong I’ve done.

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We Become Murder

In the dark, the bedsheets were foreign to me,
holding porcelain patterns
like chinaware.
From woven silk, one of my feet dangled free,
and upon the calloused skin I felt cold air.

The bead curtain rattled like she had just left;
I, with thoughts of her forked tongue from scaled bodice.
Seems I had come to nought,
turned victim of theft,
like a landlord gives hope then cancels the lease.

She was meant as revery disguised respite,
but with her back turned spreading curtains’ beads
her mind dots with currency, of matters trite;
I understand now that I must change her creed.

To teach her love not monetarily gained, I
destitute, know the ways of living now;
disconnect, no longer drown in life feigned.
To heat hearts the factory must be burned down.

Naiveté has struck her as thorned thumb,
I will suck the wound gentle til solid thought flows.
We will come to clarity, a pure trust in sum,
then travel speedily, horizons turn to ghosts!

But lo! I take heed – my thoughts she does encroach,
returns with shadowed mass -
lumbering willow that weeps across his shoulders, his skin cockroach.
He says loudly: “I should take you for a crow!”

“Crow?” say I, somewhat surprised, “Whatever for?”
And he: “Dark wings who steal the shiny things of mine.
She cannot be stolen.
I will make you sore.”
I think: His wits match only his mundane crimes.

“Not crow,” say I, “you mean to accuse me magpie,
but I do not steal from those who have nothing.”
I look to her cowering: “Do not seek to cry,
when he is gone; do not think of running.”

And she speaks now, her forked tongue having vanished,
attempts to dissuade me now knowing my cause,
believing I to be weak, a mule famished, panicked,
carrying burdens to meekly draw.

As if I am lost in the decrepit sways
of the urbane, seeking solace in her,
and acting in purely irrational ways,
when all I feel is calm. How I know her
wrong.

I show a teethy smile, her eyes touring,
how she knows, she knows! Having seen me before
come back in the dark, like cat before morning
to sleep after prey has been quartered from claws.

“I belong to him,” she paws his dirt jacket,
sympathetic. I should be empathetic
understanding deals: idiosyncratic
love between melting wax and a flaming wick.

“You gotta pay damn it,” she says scared, “then run!”
The brute rises nodding inevitably,
like earth is possessed to orbit the sun,
approaching stoic not knowing of me.

“Give me cash,” comes as mere suggestion to I;
with a wink and a flicker glimmers metal
and his broad throat grins a hell-chasm
and she cries
as he tries to struggle free.

She becomes an hourglass in the doorframe,
shapely transluscent, a lamp without shade
from her head to her toes I see the sand drain.
She will run perhaps, though maybe she will stay.

I watch her drowning many stupified gasps
holding to the frame as if she’s within ship
in storm.
Bit by poisonous asps, she gags as he gargles from throaty sips.

“Seems ‘crow’ is accurate,” I say to my blade,
“For I become murder when I’m with friends.”
I wipe his face clean across brute newly made
easel; impressionist dab of light I send.

“Come hither!” I scream to her fading footsteps
“You will not get far!” Her toes sound of raindrops
on the hardwood floor, a match for the quicksteps
of my quick heels – always ready for the block.

“It is just you and I, left to fight!” I scream
“What misery, in time, such a world has birthed,
where ever tread man he fears the next!
Maybe we can start in new vigourous mirth.
Come back here and we will find a home together,
at least in the refuse the world has left bare.
We will get married in the dust you will learn,
form beauty from the faithless muck, like clay-ware!
You will grow large, bulbous, and litter a litter
of small dark children who bleed tar and smuggle.
They will have to! Of having been born in the shitter!
And born of anger!
How they will know the struggle!
They will be strong oxen with bloody-born muscles
to plow fertility from futility, babies no longer
starving from empty suckles.”

I see her shadow sweep around a corner,
fled to the streets into derelict market.
Another wrong, I fear, so late in the hour.
For both her and I! Foolish I
having no snare set.

They will see the nubile nude as invitation.
I would have shown her the love, O, and the light.
They will steal her youth as form of masturbation.
They will show their love gathering as dark blight.

She is pulled to the ground savaged by dark strangers
of the unkind, the desperate. And I wish
her in Hell for it would be a lighter curse.

In the muddy rain she flounders like a fish.

They are the black in the night,
wear robes of dead;
wish her not upon those lost in light.
Hooded with hooked noses, balding of the head,
squawking and flapping their arms:
the real magpies.

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Reunion

I don’t want to be my brother’s age
so I turn boy between two parents.

Stew pot steaming
mother’s arm gliding
ladling through the mist
as though it was thick water
and I remember drowning.
Seeing my father’s tie
brown serpent within the chlorine.
Fairy lights refracted then cleared
the gathering of suits and gowns
gasping harder than the child without air.

You didn’t have to save me.
There was a lifeguard there and
I wasn’t the one that needed saving.
The one who would have loved to be here
maybe
filled to the brim with roast potatoes
gravy stew steam
the warmth his warmth
that hanged from the ceiling.

He would have loved to be here
watching
two parents joust without lances
each utterance from their old lips
reaching but
they’ll only be for a while lovers. Periodic strangers -

desert madmen with broken backs
digging oasis crystal into their throats. They meet each other’s
eyes upon the surface shattering

an illusion swept by steam the warmth
his warmth hanged from the ceiling and
I don’t want to be my brother’s age.

So I turn boy between two parents.

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Betsy, again.

At the age of seven, I was in my sunday best, squat ankle deep within the stream and watching the scattered leaves spiral down through the current. I stood and walked back to the river bank, where my socks were bundled into black shoes, and picked up a small pebble, wondering if I could place it on top of a leaf to be carried downstream. With the stony passenger in its leafy seat, something caught my eye. A deer stood some ways upstream, its neck craned down into the water, its pink tongue lapping gently at the water surface. It raised its head and stared at me. Water droplets fell quick from its snout and glinted in the noon sun. I did not move. I knew what to do in this situation. My mother had told me many times how rare it was to see a deer in the forest. I was not to make a sound. Just sit and watch – and I did – not noticing my leaf boat was carrying the pebble safe downstream.
‘Hello, deer,’ I thought, trying to speak to it from my mind to its. ‘Mom told me I need to be quiet. Not to disturb you.’
The deer pushed its snout back into the water surface.
‘Mom says you’re filled with something great that nobody can understand. That’s why you’re all leaving the mountain. She says there’s better places for you all.’
Some birds took flight nearby, startling the deer to retreat into the forest.
‘Goodbye.’
I watched the tree-line, thinking the deer would soon return. After some time, I pushed myself up and ran to put on shoes and socks, not caring to soak the cotton. I ran upstream screaming for my mother and father. But when I arrived back at the picnic, only my mother was there, on her knees, packing up. The bugs had stopped chirping. I remember that sudden silence clearly. She turned to my approach, that damn weakened smile across her face.
‘What is it, Betsy?’ she asked.
‘Where’s dad?’
‘Oh he went into town to get something.’
I didn’t say anything for a while, having forgotten the reason I was excited in the first place. It wasn’t until my mother asked me again.
‘I saw a deer, mom.’
My mother stood, her hands on her waist and her head cocked to the side. ‘You saw a deer did you?’
‘I did.’
‘You’re not telling lies?’
‘No I’m not!’
She smirked, and then folded up the red and white hatched blanket into the basket. ‘Well aren’t you a lucky thing.’
‘She was beautiful,’ I said. ‘Like she wasn’t real.’
‘Can’t say I’m not jealous of you, Bets.’
‘We going home now?’ As my mother turned from me, I saw the back of her arm. Four reddened dots were surfacing beneath the skin. ‘What happened?’
‘Nothing, Bets. It’s okay.’
‘You hurt yourself.’
‘It’ll get better. Don’t you worry.’
I took hold of my mother’s dress and pulled until she came down to my height and I tried to hold her as best I could. ‘I hope it gets better,’ I said, kissing each bruise. ‘You gotta be more careful.’

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Betsy’s Story Cont. II

Eric had picked me up from school in his truck when he was still a bit of a stranger to me. He told me he was going to show me a surprise, and I agreed because I had begun to like him. Whether his adventurousness was an illusion I couldn’t tell. He was excited that day. I could tell his heart was beating fast. He looked at me, his eyes dilated and wide. Across the dashboard the shadows of the leaves flitted past, reminding me of light refracting across the surface of a river. Do the shadows know they are shadows? Does everything know of itself? I looked at Eric, his eyes forward on the road now, the pines running along side us, the road markings skipping under us, the sky stretching forward infinitely. I imagine the truck lifting off the asphalt so we can see ourselves and how everything moves and turns to eat itself.

‘Where you taking me?’ I said.
‘I was here the other week with Ruffian. We were just walking along, halfway through a delivery,’ he said, and then stops.
‘And?’
He smiles, his head tilted. ‘Guess.’
‘What do you mean guess? Guess what?’
‘Just guess what happened.’
I make a face at him of disbelief, the palms of my hands pointed upwards as if to shrug. ‘All you said is that you went walking with your dog. What am I supposed to guess? The trees came alive and ate your dog? What?’
He chuckled. Like a man, he chuckled. Deep, from his heart. My palms began to feel damp. The boy was making me nervous. The boy was making me feel something new. Something warm.
‘Ruffian saw a squirrel.’
‘Bullshit.’
‘Yep. Full on squirrel with bushy tail.’
‘No squirrels here you liar. They’re all dead.’
‘I guess some things come back.’
He stopped the truck. I looked around. We were just on a stretch of road, the forest was around us. I watched him walk around the hood of the truck, this shit eating grin on his face.
‘Does it hurt?’ I asked him through the truck window as he pulled open my door, and offered a hand. I didn’t take it and just jumped out.
‘Does what hurt?’ he said.
‘Grinning like that constantly.’
The expression faded from his face faster than ever I’d seen and part of me then realised how easy it is to chip a heart.
‘I’m kidding,’ I said, shoulder barging him, causing him to be now physically imbalanced as well as emotionally.
He smiled a little and then his face turned stone again. I tiptoed up to him and kissed his cheek, which turned as red as rose. He stood there, rubbing his forearm with a hand and looking into the distance, afraid of looking at me directly all of a sudden. Oh dear, I thought, I broke him.
‘Come on then, why we here?’ I said.
He coughed and asked me to follow him. He looked at my hand, and then at me, and then away from me. I grabbed his hand and he smiled.
‘Be careful of these roots,’ he said, pointing out how they tangled all upon each other, how deep they grew into the soil.
‘You didn’t kill it did you?’ I said.
‘What?’
‘The squirrel.’
‘Why would I kill it?’
‘I don’t know, maybe Ruffian killed it.’
‘He wouldn’t hurt a squirrel.’
‘How would you know?’
‘Well he didn’t,’ he said, almost angrily. I felt his grip tighten. My heart was racing. He’s so expressive, I thought. So much emotion wrapped up inside him. Sensitive. ‘Just chased the poor thing up a tree and barked at it for a while.’
‘I didn’t mean to say your dog was a bad dog.’
His grip loosened and he stopped in his tracks and he leaned in close with his finger on his lips. ‘Listen,’ he said.
‘Listen to wha – ’
He shushed me. ‘You hear that?’ He had his finger pointed upwards to the sky, and I expected a birdcall of some sort, and then I heard it.
‘Water.’
‘It’s the stream from top of the mountain.’
‘Bullshit. It’s all dried up.’
He grabbed my hand tight and pulled me into the forest until we came to a small spring, the water bubbling up and trickling down into a narrow stream, spreading itself out evenly across the forest floor.
‘It can’t be the same stream,’ I said. ‘Is that what you think?’
‘I’d like to,’ Eric said.
We followed the trickle of water, watching it pool in some parts, only to be carried down further in others. Water skippers darted across the surface.
‘I saw a fish once in the stream,’ I said. ‘It splashed the water.’
‘Think the only fish you’ll find here are tadpoles,’ he said.
‘My mom says everything goes back into the ground eventually.’
‘Well this stream isn’t taking no for an answer,’ Eric said. ‘At this rate it’ll probably reach the ocean.’
We sat down on the driest part of soil we could find and just watched the stream trickle slow. I rested my head on his shoulder and he rested his head on the top of mine. And we held hands until I felt a little cold. I checked my watch and then eyed the sky. I looked at Eric, who nodded.

These are times now when I think back on memories like that and I wonder if it could be as simple. And then I remember there wasn’t a simplicity to it. There never was and never will be simplicity to anything. Each second a new layer is added to me. I am a constantly changing being.

And yet, I try to be the same. Every moment and memory seems to contradict what has come before. Is it contradiction or change?

I sit down on the couch and stare into the fireplace. There is a couple dried logs beside it. I want to light a fire but I don’t want to have to go and chop more wood. And so I sit in the cold, wrapped in a blanket, until I fall asleep. Maybe the boys will be here by tomorrow, I think. Maybe I will wake upon a layer I want to be on. Maybe I will wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll breathe air that tastes like miracle.

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