Joe Kapitan ~ Four Occasions


I was going to have Michelangelo’s bake you a huge cas­sa­ta birth­day cake with mul­ti­ple tiers, and hol­lowed out in the mid­dle so I could jump out and sur­prise you, but then I asked myself—am I what you would choose to have pop out of a cake? Might you pre­fer a cud­dly pup­py, a younger man, a woman for a change, a pile of mon­ey? Or per­haps you’d pre­fer to have noth­ing com­ing out of the cake at all, but rather, a small step lad­der to climb inside the hol­low and dis­ap­pear with a wave and a wink— through a win­dow, through a worm­hole. Is there some­where else you’d rather be? Is there some­one else you’d rather be? This is why birth­days have always been so hard for us—we shop for presents, we fail, then we end up going out to din­ner at L’Albatros where dozens of tables sup­port uneasy cou­ples default­ing to their devices, a place where it’s per­fect­ly accept­able to look like you are still get­ting to know your part­ner of two weeks or two years or two decades.


President’s Day

Is it strange that President’s Day makes me think of Martha Washington and Mary Todd Lincoln, instead of George and Abraham? Martha was pre­vi­ous­ly mar­ried; this I did not know. Before she was Martha Washington, Martha Dandridge became Martha Custis, then Widow Custis at age twen­ty-six, moth­er of four chil­dren (two below the ground, two above), and own­er of the hun­dreds of slaves who worked her late husband’s tobac­co plan­ta­tion. By the time George Washington came court­ing, she’d already sur­vived a life­time. It’s said that their attrac­tion was imme­di­ate. I like to think war­riors rec­og­nize oth­er war­riors. Mary Todd was not mar­ried before she became Mary Todd Lincoln, but she also had four chil­dren (final tal­ly: three below ground, one above) and she was seat­ed next to dear Abraham at the the­ater when he was shot. She buried him, too. The remain­der of her life was a cortège of mad­ness and ghosts. I like to think that a war­rior can read the beau­ty in anoth­er warrior’s scars. I like to think of scars as vic­to­ry tal­lies etched in skin or else notched into bone and maybe the best use of this gov­ern­ment day of rest is for us, us war­riors, to sit down and count our own scars and then each other’s and won­der at how we’ve even made it this far.


Fourth of July

All that which we hate will be beat­en with base­ball bats, drowned in the kid­die pool, grilled with pep­pers and onions, blown to bits after sun­down. Only then will we feel free, spilling col­ors against the night sky.



I didn’t get you flow­ers, because of the glad­i­a­tors, and I didn’t buy you jew­el­ry because of the emper­or. You more than any oth­er will under­stand this, because you are a stu­dent of his­to­ry and it was you who told me about Caligula and how he plant­ed spies among the colosseum’s keep­ers, to find out which glad­i­a­tors had devel­oped bonds between them­selves, and how the emper­or paid twice the usu­al amount of gold for duels arranged between close friends. In those days, and these days, love looked like the delib­er­ate­ly-slowed arc of a blade, just enough to aid the oth­er. And those who refused to fight their dear friends were show­ered with ros­es, the worst out­come, for it meant that the crowd nev­er wished to seem them in the are­na again, and those mis­er­able souls became slaves for life, labor­ing in chains with­in earshot of the colos­se­um; every roar of the crowd a fresh insult. Their names were for­got­ten, even to them­selves. No, we are not those peo­ple. We pre­fer to bleed.

Happy anniver­sary.

P.S. Do you remem­ber how it rained on our wed­ding day? All the guests felt sor­ry for us but you laughed because you nev­er want­ed to take out­door pho­tographs any­way, you just want­ed to dance, and you whirled around and around in the down­pour with your face to the sky and my heart spilled over and the report to the emper­or stat­ed that your mas­cara ran and streaked your face like war paint.


Joe Kapitan writes fic­tion and cre­ative non-fic­tion from a glacial ridge­line south of Cleveland. Recent work has appeared or will appear in Booth, Passages North, Pithead Chapel and DIAGRAM. He is the author of a short sto­ry col­lec­tion, Caves of the Rust Belt (Tortoise Books).