Don’t be afraid of him none, he’s just a puppy. Hundred and seventy pound part-Lab part lion big ol’ scaredy-cat. I call him Daddy. My last one, he was twelve. Nothin’ worse than putting a dog down. But — look at me —yesterday, they took my kidney. Ain’t no way I’m dealin’ with Daddy when he’s twelve. Goin’ to see the ex-wife, now, down on Ocean. See, we have what you call shared custody. I have three exes, must be my good looks. Woman is powerful! A woman can get a guy locked up. I’m goin’ to leave Daddy with the ex and I’m gonna have dinner with my dentist. He is makin’ me a new set of teeth, ’cause Daddy here ate them. Lucky I had what you call the retainer.
Tomorrow, I’m voting: for Jerry Brown — not going to vote for that rich bitch; and I’m voting for Gavin — figure he’s young, he can learn. And Prop 19, I’m voting against it. Don’t want my son doing that. I did it, drugs — well we all did. Pot, cocaine, meth, heroin. I know what I’m talking about. Don’t want my son doin’ that. Yeah, I know they could tax it, put the money in schools. My father took me out of school when I was nine. Had me mowin’ lawns for his business. Wilson put money into prisons. You get a real education in prison. Ask me. Twelve years of my life. But I learned. No way I’m going back.
This here’s my Jesus, and this? Jesus don’t mind. This, silver and feathers, on the chain with my Jesus, this here’s the Grandfather. See, I’m Mexican and Indian too. This is the Grandfather. He’s my Protector. And just in case, I got backup protection. See that 81? Eight-one here. Eighty-one on the belt buckle. Tattoo — I’ll show you — says 81. There’s eight and one, for H and A, for Hell’s Angels, get it? Hell’s Angels, everybody knows ’em. They’re my protection. They’re no gangsters, gang-bangers. There’s good guys and bad guys, good angels and bad angels, know what I mean? Maybe a good guy one night drinks too much, so he rapes some woman. He does his time, he puts in his time, he pays for it.
Here’s the toy, ol’ Daddy. Here’s the squeaker. Be good boy, Daddy. Come along now. We gonna go see the ex-wife. I’m votin’ tomorrow back in Davis. I’m a country boy. Just here in the city to fix the teeth, take out a kidney.
How much does it cost to write a book? I think I could write a book. I got a story.
“David Guralnik, internationally know lexicographer died Friday,” reports AP. “He believed ‘OK’ best expressed the creativity of English-speaking Americans.”
Cleared forests, planted corn, made promises to Indians. Laid tracks, panned for gold, spanned bridges over rivers. Fought wars, freed slaves, lifted lamps to immigrants. Slapped asphalt across the continent, dotted i’s of interstates with comfort stations. Toilets that flush! Hotdogs with mustard! Home runs with fastballs, curve balls, and splitters! Picket fences, neon lights, comic books, television! Strip mines, strip malls, barrels over Niagara Falls! Pole dancers, potato chips, loose lips sink ships! Nylon, oleo, Sweetheart of the Rodeo! Bumper crops, pop art, soda pop, chrome bumpers! Clorox, Detox! Botox! Kentucky Fried Chicken!
Good Luck/Bad Luck Laundry
The long-haired lady is folding laundry. As she folds, she tells of Bad Luck, bad as in the old blues songs. The lady — call her Elaine — says her kids give her a hard time, her mother couldn’t have cared less for her, and her husband, the father of the youngest three, always messes around.
One night, Elaine dreams that her mother, against her specific instructions, lends Elaine’s car to Elaine’s teenage son, the eldest, who always gets into one scrape or another. In this dream, the son wrecks the car and dies. Because of the dream, Elaine tells her mother not to lend this son the car. As is usual with oracles, fate plows straight ahead, despite attempts to prevent it. The grandmother lends Elaine’s car, Elaine’s eldest boy loses control around a crazy curve, the car goes over the cliff with Elaine’s son in it.
Elaine’s husband is seeing another woman. This woman, his lover, is HIV-positive. Elaine’s husband wants to share a house with wife and lover. Elaine is actually considering it, which shows you that while fate may plow ahead, some people push the plow, don’t you know?
I’m putting my clothes in the dryer, shaking my head over fate and plows, when in walks the fireman who was electrocuted. Electricity passed right through his body and left two little round burn marks. Elaine, folding her clothes into absolutely perfect folded piles, asks the fireman if he had an out-of-body experience. She heard about some guy who was on the phone during a storm, who told the person he was talking to to hang up because you can get electrocuted, and, well, he got electrocuted. He rose right off the floor and they resuscitated him for twenty minutes. In his out-of-body, he saw them throw up their hands and give him up for dead.
The fireman didn’t have an out-of-body, but he was on national TV twice, once for forcing an old lady to choose her safety over her not inconsiderable savings under the bed, and another time for giving mouth-to-mouth to a cat.
Dryer windows are worlds going round. A pair of sneakers in the dryer sounds like a pack of kids running. A young man named Larry drags in a heavy canvas duffle. He talks of Brenda who married Keith at 20; the two of them went to nursing school together. For twenty years, they worked San Francisco General ER. Larry had been to high school with Brenda, came to see her in The City, and, as it was okay with Keith, stayed to take care of the dogs, moving into Keith and Brenda’s basement. Keith and Brenda saved up all their cash, bought an Airstream, were set to retire and travel the continent together. In January, Keith was diagnosed with leukemia, and by summer he was gone. Larry ended up with Brenda, got his God-whispered wish, and now he’s trying to live with it.
silverware ergodic blue official headquarters rank hereof hypothyroid lanthanide aile cochlea aryl discriminate bewail brotherhood doubloon logjam beta jake apache twelve sapling aggression kimono buzzsaw cosmology funnel bemoan euphoric calamus chump mardi squalid custodial oblique
— Spam message
Sally was euphoric. Jake, official custodial engineer at the première Mardi Gras headquarters west of the Mississippi, had called to say that the silverware that had disappeared the night of the festival — along with twelve gold doubloons, kept in a blue box, all family heirlooms — had been located, the box full hereof found at the foot of a loquat sapling at the squalid edge of town, not far from the old Apache reservation. It seems the aile (the movable airfoil at the trailing edge of a wing) of a Boeing 747 had broken off in midflight on that night, and its descent as a fiery funnel into the meadow had startled the chumps who had stolen the box. Now Sally bewailed the situation. She suffered from a hypothyroid condition, characterized by a general loss of vigor — which is why she stayed home all day in her pink silk kimono and bemoaned even having to leave the house, not to mention forging through the logjam of traffic to get to that part of town. But Jake volunteered to come to her aid, thereby rising in rank in Sally’s eyes to the noblest of the noble. Fact is, he would have cut through that traffic with a buzzsaw, if he had to, to help her, though what he really did was take an oblique route that circumvented the worst of the traffic, and of course avoided the rush hour’s angst and aggression. In any case, Jake, who had an injury of the cochlea as a result of an accident and was partly deaf, had, as a way of compensation, developed a benign attitude regarding the brotherhood of man, and it helped him get through life and traffic.
Jake was an amateur chemist, having studied biochemical engineering in college, though he hadn’t finished, as his fondness for certain chemicals had made him just too laid back. Still, he enjoyed startling people with descriptions, such as that of lanthanide: any in a series of elements of increasing atomic numbers beginning with lanthanum, or aryl: having or being a univalent organic group derived from an aromatic hydrocarbon by the removal of one hydrogen atom. When he saw the calumus carefully arranged over the blue box, he recognized it as the aromatic peeled and dried rhizome of the sweet flag, a source of a carcinogenic essential oil. He picked up the treasure with rubber gloves and returned it to Sally.
The whole thing was crazy, Sally said, when he told her, impossible. Jake disagreed. By statistic probability, it was an ergodic episode, having zero probability that it would never recur, or by any theory of cosmology, as he said, shit happens.
Diane Kirsten Martin’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Field, New England Review, Poetry Daily, Zyzzyva, Harvard Review, Narrative and many other journals and anthologies. Her work was included in Best New Poets 2005. She has received a Pushcart Special Mention, and won the Erskine J. Poetry Prize from Smartish Pace. Her first collection, Conjugated Visits, was published in May 2010 by Dream Horse Press. Diane’s newest manuscript, Hue and Cry, is seeking a publisher.