Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Taking the High Road

As they pulled her out of the twisted knot of metal,
the firefighters treaded on crunching shards
with their rubber boots,
and her car’s horn continued to blare in distress.
As she waited for rescue,
barely in this world,
she stared empty-eyed at the deflated air bag
in front of her, smeared with her make up and blood,
like a clown’s shroud of Turin.
She could no longer tell where her car had ended
and his had begun,
she couldn’t see him,
couldn’t hear anything other than the unceasing honk
and the firefighters’ rescue tools,
couldn’t reach her cell phone to call him or text,
saying, “Funny meeting you here.”
She had no energy to speak to the rescuer
who loomed over her occasionally
to give her a thumbs up or brief words of encouragement,
couldn’t even raise the corner of her lips into a smile.
“At least he finally said I was right,” she thought,
closing her eyes and exhaling satisfaction.

Fatal Error

Shirley mostly kept to herself at work,
sipping her tea alone in her office.
She always, always wore a sweater,
even in July,
chilled to the bone by air conditioning
when everyone else flaunted the dress code
with bare shoulders and flip flops.
She didn’t gossip with the girls half her age,
was never asked to happy hours
or ridiculous activities
like dodgeball leagues or axe throwing
with the rest of her team,
and she thanked God for that.

But every other Wednesday,
Craig stopped by her office,
asked her if she needed any help
with her computer.
At first she’d abruptly say no
and turn back to her work,
but then he started asking her
questions, just simple things:
like, “How’s your day going?”
or “Crazy weather, huh?”
Then he saw the book
she had been reading during lunch,
the third in a series,
and excitedly discussed the plot and the characters
and how the movies were not nearly as good,
and before she knew it,
half an hour had passed,
and it was the longest anyone had spoken to her
in that office for years.

So Shirley started to look forward to Craig’s visits,
found herself dressing up a bit every other Wednesday,
maybe putting on a pair of earrings
or a bit of lip gloss
or even letting her hair down.
She wasn’t great at spontaneous conversation,
so she would look up topics she thought
he would enjoy talking about,
and before she knew it,
he would greet her every other Wednesday
with a cheerful, “Hey, Shirl!”

Then one Friday,
Craig unexpectedly stopped by,
when she had been feeling ill,
with a throbbing headache
and a sinus infection.
She had woken up late that morning,
so her hair was unwashed,
and she was wearing wrinkled khakis
and the same dress shirt from the day before.
“Hi, Shirley,” he said,
“Oh!” she replied, dropping a pen
and brushing back her hair.
She had a coughing fit then,
and her nose started running,
and she desperately waved off his concern
as she searched for a Kleenex.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said
with a pained expression.
“I just wanted to say goodbye
because your company has contracted
with a new IT consulting firm,
so I guess I won’t be seeing you anymore.”
She didn’t know what to say then
and faked another coughing fit
so he wouldn’t notice the tears
that had sprung to her eyes.
“Well, it’s been nice working with you,” he said,
before she had the chance to speak again,
and then he walked away.

A few weeks later,
on a Wednesday that should have been
the best day of her week,
after a long meeting
during which her workload was increased
and her deadlines were shortened,
and the least experienced coworker was promoted,
Shirley sat in her office,
no longer cold,
inflamed with the injustice of it all,
and she went to her spam folder,
found the most obvious malicious email,
clicked a few links,
and spread a vicious virus among all her contacts
and deleted permanently about three-fourths
of the files on the server.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020


You’re just not the right fit, he said,
his eyes already turned away,
staring at his computer screen
with a half-frown.
I had no use for dignity then,
pleaded for some kind of explanation,
something that I could do, anything.
If I’m not the right fit,
I could carve myself down,
force myself into the empty space,
maybe it would be just a little off,
but I could fit,
make myself fit.
He was annoyed then,
He hadn’t been expecting argument,
bargaining, stammering pleas.
He thought maybe I’d disappear,
like when you would turn off old TVs,
and the picture would shrink into a tiny little square
and vanish.
You aren’t the right fit, he repeated.
It was immutable, this fit.
He had thought everyone knew that.
The behaviors I promised to change—
asking the wrong questions,
laughing at the wrong times,
making silly mistakes—
were just symptoms of the inherent wrongness of me.
Implied in this declaration of disharmony
was the hope that I would fit somewhere else,
but that was not his concern.
He had his assistant come in then.
She was really good at sweeping away
the misshapen and the discarded,
gently herding you along
with soft condolences and chitchat,
then once you were out the door,
turning around and leaving you there,
alone, blinking in the blinding sunlight.

The Scientist

Do you want to find the door?
It’s above, below, around, and beyond you.
It’s always open.
I have been there,
outside the spectrum of your imagination,
where the universe is sketched by lost arts.
Hydrodynamics and quantum tectonics,
chemical philosophy and inert alchemy,
ideological absorption and biological refraction,
theoretical topography and genetic combustion.
Laws outside of physical laws,
endless solutions on offer but no questions.
Gravity looks pretty different there.
The sun beams black,
the grass and soil melt into puddles beneath your feet,
the clouds weep diamonds that shatter on your skin.
There are creatures there too,
sleek, white, blind.
Fast, much faster than you.
They have countless teeth but no voice.
They follow you back here,
but you’ll only see them when you close your eyes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


An amber eye against leathery matte black scales
opens halfway and then closes again.
The slight movement of a long tail
sends gold coins tumbling down
a mountain of riches.
Slow stretching of lazy feet,
admiring the claws as long and sharp
and deadly as teeth.
A golden sunbeam shining down into the den
warms the spiny back,
and the only sound besides a satisfied sigh
is a gentle breeze,
a welcome visitor from outside.
Then suddenly,
a crunching sound
on the hillside leading to the den,
the clanking of the silver armor
covering the tiny morsel inside.
The eye opens again, wide at first,
but then narrowed in annoyance.
Another greedy invader
with murderous intent,
who will soon become another
pile of bones to add to the collection.
The fire within the breast
ignites and smolders.

It's Just That Age

Kaitlyn, who had just turned thirteen,
hated, in no particular order:
her mother;
her hair;
her best friend, Eileen,
who had betrayed her;
her crooked teeth;
the shape of her feet;
her history teacher;
Justin Smolensky
and all his friends;
and band practice.

when she’d slam
her bedroom door
and throw herself on her bed
and wish she had never been born,
strange things would start to happen.
She hadn’t lifted a finger that night,
but her full-length mirror cracked right in two.
Her mother accused her of lying
as she pled her innocence,
and she was grounded for a week.
The following week, her math textbook
spontaneously combusted, and she cried
because she’d totally get in trouble at school for it,
but Eileen found an old copy on Amazon to ship her,
so Kaitlyn forgave her.

Then that one time at school,
when Mr. Harris knew she didn’t know the answer,
but made her stand up and try to guess,
and she heard people start to giggle,
because it was supposed to be easy,
but she honestly didn’t know,
even though she had studied,
and it wasn’t fair,
and her hands started shaking,
and it was like a wave,
like a tsunami of this energy,
that built up somewhere in her belly
and rose up through her body
and just poured out of her,
straight at Mr. Harris,
and he collapsed then.
He fell right to the floor with a heart attack.
And Kaitlyn knew,
she knew,
that she had done it,
even though no one blamed her
because middle-aged teachers
sometimes have heart attacks,
and he survived, thank God,
and he returned to class a month later,
and she didn’t know if he knew,
but he never did that again,
picking on her, that is.
He never made eye contact with her again.

So Kaitlyn was a little scared of herself,
and even though she hated almost everyone,
she didn’t actually want to hurt anyone.
She begged her mother for homeschooling,
but her mother said,
“I don’t have time to mess with that,
and this is all just a phase anyway.
Things will get better in high school.”
She kissed her daughter absentmindedly
on the forehead before she left for work
and was almost immediately involved
in a car accident.
Just a fender-bender, though.
Nothing serious.

The Test

If you open this door,
it leads to a paradise of riches.
But first you have to travel through
that dark tunnel,
where the shrieks of invisible predator
and helpless prey will ring in your ears,
where your every fault and sin in this life
will return unbidden to your mind
as you walk haltingly forward,
always on the verge of tripping
over a poisonous thorny branch
or falling into a black abyss,
where the centipedes and earwigs
are ten feet tall and ravenous
for human flesh.
Many have gone before you,
but none have returned,
and to be honest,
they weren’t that bright to begin with.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020


Juliet didn’t usually leave the office for lunch,
but she felt she needed a walk,
fresh air,
a clear mind.
She had just received her performance appraisal,
and she had been given a poor rating
because her supervisor said she was
“not empowered enough.”
“But what does that mean?” Juliet asked,
her cracking voice betraying the eruption within.
“We just want you to be the best possible person you can be,”
she was told by Lucia, who never raised her voice
or wore a wrinkled shirt.
“We want you to feel empowered and act with empowerment.”
“But how?” Juliet asked.
“You have to decide for yourself how you want
to express your own empowerment,” Lucia replied,
signaling with the shuffling of papers
that the interview was over.

So Juliet stormed out of the office
shielded her eyes against the blinding sun.
Flawless blue sky,
explosions of green leaves, and
reds, yellows, and purples of manicured flowerbeds
dotting the city,
honking traffic and thick clouds of tourists,
and the teenage boys in tank tops and jeans
drumming endlessly on white plastic buckets
across the street from the Art Institute.
And Juliet started to feel better then,
started to walk to the beat of the summer,
felt as free as a child
who has snuck away from the school trip chaperones,
with a twenty dollar bill in her pocket
for a McDonald’s lunch and astronaut ice cream in the gift shop.
Just as the absurdity of the previous meeting struck her
and a smile began to blossom at the corners of her mouth,
she stepped onto a metal grate in the middle of the sidewalk,
which promptly collapsed,
and she fell into the darkness below.

She lay in that darkness,
looking up at the hole through which she had descended,
a single puffy cumulus cloud overhead.
Her right leg twisted in some horrible shape,
some sort of liquid dripping on her forehead,
and a skittering sound nearby that could only be
that of some murderous rat.
“Hey,” she called out faintly at the cloud.

A man’s concerned face peered down from above.
He was the homeless man she had passed by
only moments before.
“You okay, Lady?” he slurred,
as he was missing most of his teeth.
“Please,” she cried out hoarsely,
(and what was wrong with her voice?)
“I’m hurt, and I need help.”
One of the plastic bucket drummers was now
assessing the situation.
“Hey,” he shouted.
“Hey, some woman here needs help!”
A few moments later,
presumably after the drummer’s cries
had been ignored by hundreds of passersby,
three other faces peered down through the hole,
but they were foreign tourists
and didn’t speak English,
and it didn’t seem as though they knew how to help her.
A well-dressed older lady,
likely on her way to some sort of fancy lunch
or artistic lecture,
peered down and said, “Oh!”
She said, “I’ll be right back,”
and set off on a mission to find some sort of authority.
More people gathered around the hole,
murmuring words of concern and encouragement
and sometimes loud laughs accompanied by “Damn!”
And as 10 minutes and 15 minutes and 20 minutes passed,
Juliet’s leg only grew more painful and swollen.
And finally a police officer arrived,
and he contacted the fire department,
who sent three fire engines and an ambulance,
and they pushed back the crowd
and debated the best way to extricate their patient,
and Juliet realized that her lunch hour had long expired,
and she hadn’t even eaten anything yet.

And as the firefighters,
who had placed her on a stretcher,
lifted her into the dazzling sunshine,
the sounds of the street,
which had been muted from below,
came fully alive again,
and the crowd gathered around the scene
began to cheer and applaud.
Juliet felt a buzzing in her pocket,
her cell phone,
which she managed to painfully remove and answer,
and the call was from Lucia,
who said, “I’m just calling to check up
on that report. Did you finish it yet?”
even though it wasn’t due for another four days,
and Juliet replied,
“You can just fuck right off.”


“I think you deserve to find everything out,” she said,
and I practically ripped the page to turn it,
the final major revelations finally at hand,
with only twenty pages in the final chapter
of the final book in the series to go,
the identity of the killer to be revealed,
the hero’s father named,
the nature of the doomsday weapon
everyone had been hunting,
the reason the hero couldn’t remember his own wedding.
I turned the page,
then I blinked.
And I stared at a blank page,
followed by another,
followed by another,
all the way to the end of the book.
No more dialogue,
no more exposition,
no more plot,
no climax,
no denouement.
The novel,
which I had purchased in hardback
on its first day of publication,
was now devoid of ideas,
empty of symbols,
barren of words.
I threw the book across the room in disgust
and took to the internet,
where I intended to lodge a sternly worded complaint
with the publisher and the bookstore chain
and seek a refund.
I soon discovered that I was not alone,
that millions of readers were similarly outraged,
that the book simply stopped
on the same page, with the same line
for every single copy.
“I think you deserve to find everything out,” she said,
and that was it.
The printing press released a statement
that they had made no error,
that this was the way the author had intended the book to end.
“What a load of bullshit!” the author’s fans cried,
and they cursed her on social media,
millions upon millions of angry people,
betrayed by an artist,
their time investment all for naught.
The author’s husband then made a statement,
explaining that she had been suffering
from a terrible and obscure degenerative disease,
which had a long unpronounceable name,
and she was now in a coma,
from which she was never expected to emerge.
That, apparently, was the “everything” she had wanted
to tell her readers,
that she was running out of time
and would not be able to finish the book.
So the angry people now felt very guilty and sorrowful
and posted loving tributes to the author
and declared the ending “haunting” and “brilliant.”
I didn’t want to say anything publicly,
but I thought it was still a load of bullshit.