We are born, buried for a while, then spring up just as everything
is closing. ~ John Ashbery
Judges marched backwards up the steps. I saw it was time to question the trees. Now all the leaves lie brown in the ditch. Girls gone. The newly shoed horses fled the barn in disgust. The road, or is it roadbed, winds into a new landscape and runs away with us while our mood tries its best to stay fixed.
All we need to do is stay. It’s easy to get lost, for a boy always feels he’ll never have what he alone has never had. I had forgotten what a bird looked like. My thoughts kept wandering down to the river to have a look.
I began to think that only death cancels all our engagements. I thought: You came here in a fucking Ford. Now what?
From here I could hear the sad bells of other hometowns. My tires had spat out miles like spools of thread. Just one drop of atheism lasts a long time in this landscape.
Clouds were banked and stacked, each jockeying for the top position before sliding back again, as if moved by sun rays, each promised to a bridesmaid. I felt again I had been returned to the nominative case.
We always stay the same, and the people we have been in the past whiz by until the end of time.
Something in the dirty salad of lies stuck in my throat. I felt that dread of the future peculiar to mothers. I shut down the engine, then thought better of it and took a drive through the prairie. New revelations awaited. One more mile could save my life, then another. It was easier this way. There was the world’s largest spool of thread, and across the street, a woman who lived in a shoe, complete with giftshop and tavern. I pulled in and shared a beer with a local citizen named Birdie who told me he’d relocated his mind once he untangled his parachute. This seemed more than a metaphor. He leaned over to kiss me. I ducked and paid my bill. Exiting, I saw some tangled trees that looked like seaweed in the twilight. Clouds were shifting to purple and a cool breeze blew my hat down the road. I saw then that Birdie had followed me out. He had my hat. “What people forget about her,” he said, gesturing at the old woman in the shoe who towered over the roadside, “was how she whipped all them kids and put ‘em all to bed.” “Thank you,” I said, accepting the hat. “No broth, either,” I added, but he wasn’t tracking. Instead, he grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me back around. “You feel the need that almost everyone in a defeated country must feel,” he said.
Adriana Imagines Her Death
First, a vision of a square of blue sea, a huge red rock. Then my lifeless body would float from wave to wave beneath the sky for ages. The gulls would peck at my eyes, the sun would burn my breast and belly, the fish would gnaw at my back. At last I would sink to the bottom, would be dragged head downward toward some icy, blue current that would carry me along the seabed for months and years among submarine rocks, fish, and seaweed, and floods of limped seawater would wash my forehead.
I’d read somewhere that at certain hours of the night you can slip into a parallel world: an empty apartment where the light wasn’t switched off, on a dead-end street. It’s where one finds objects lost long ago: a lucky charm, a letter, an umbrella, a key. A dog that followed me through the streets of Paris. The dog walked in front of me. At first, it looked around to check that I was following, and then it walked at a steady pace, certain that I would follow. I walked at the same slow pace as the dog. Nothing interrupted the silence. Grass seemed to grow in between the cobblestones. Time had ceased. Facades of buildings, the trees, the glimmer of the streetlamps took on an intensity that I had never seen in them before.
The entrance halls of certain buildings retain the echo of footsteps of those who used to cross them and who have since vanished. Something continues to vibrate after they have gone, fading waves, but which can still be picked up if one listens.
I thought of my father. I imagined him in that room on the dead-end street, or in a café just before closing time, sitting alone under the neon lights, looking through his files. He is working late. There is still a chance that I will find him.
It is the hour at last to replace my face. The architecture here is far from reassuring. Every night we tally the dead, but no one is ever missing. I sat in bed and tried to write this poem. The puppy nipped at my hand which hung over the side of the bed. I tried some sentences, but nothing seemed to work the way it should. Imagine me pregnant and in profile and it’ll explain the president. He is the bee in the mattress. My calendar is in order. My clothes closet is ship shape. I licked blood from my finger and thought things like, Would I recognize my obituary? I felt I wanted to creep into an arctic cave to check the rectal temperature of the biggest bear. I thought of all those never famous men. Fame makes you lazy. All you know is ears. All wars are useless to the dead. That’s when I realized my granny called me Flapdoodle and I don’t know two specks about what’s coming next. The dog looked at me, head tilted, as if to say we are all carved from the same carrot. Amy & Valerie hotted up my inbox which otherwise was dignified and stale. I thought of all my old lovers, how fine they were now. Finally sorted out, a happy thought for each. Goodbye, girls, goodbye! All my best thoughts limp after you.
Captain Ahab Surveys the Damage at the Press Conference
The women in the back wore dead smiles. They all had the superior look of people out of work. A sign hung in the hallway said, “No suicides permitted here.” Heavy hearted cheers arose from the gem colored polos in the front. Ahab mounted the podium like fate into the lone Atlantic. He spoke at length of the permitting stars which weave round them tragic graces. Reporters glared back, crucifixion in their eyes. Ahab’s face was a pale half-a-loaf face. “Avast!” he cried. “Sing out for new stars.” “Will you be requiring all Americans to wear masks, sir?” someone asked. “Mask, flask,” stormed the Captain. Then was heard a terrific, loud, animal sob like that of a heart-stricken moose. It was the Attorney General, hot as Satan’s hoof. “Stand by me,” Starbuck prayed, his Quaker voice atremble. “Hold me, blind me, O ye blessed influences!” Ahab rowed on into the wind. Snowflakes tumbled in feathery confusion, wonderfully white against the night, smothering the whole dirty, roaring, guilty city in innocence and silence. Like the unabated Hudson when that noble Northman flows narrowly but unfathomingly through Poughkeepsie. The virus was alluded to, never mentioned. But it was the whiteness of the thing that above all appalled, said Flask. “This whiteness,” said the third mate, “keeps her ruins for ever-new.” “Flask, Flask,” roared Ahab. “Flask is a butterless man.”
Gary Percesepe is the author of eight books, most recently The Winter of J, a poetry collection published by Poetry Box. He is Associate Editor at New World Writing. Previously he was an assistant fiction editor at Antioch Review. His work has appeared in Christian Century, Maine Review, Brevity, Story Quarterly, N + 1, Salon, Mississippi Review, Wigleaf, Westchester Review, PANK, The Millions, Atticus Review, Antioch Review, Solstice, and other places. He resides in White Plains, New York, and teaches philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx.