Susan Nordmark ~ Four Short Pieces


You’re the way­ward one, aren’t you, said the teacher. I was sit­ting on my yoga mat, dis­tract­ed by a mag­a­zine. I think every­one in this room is offer­ing you respect, I said to her. I meant to give it. In a Little Free Library near my house, I found three Adrienne Rich books. A woman who knits minia­ture elfin sweaters as Christmas tree dec­o­ra­tions offered to trade a bauble with me in exchange for poet­ry. There has been less rain this sum­mer, and many fields have dried out so deeply that the laser read­ers from air­planes reveal hid­den ancient path­ways and stone cir­cles no one knew were there.

While I was read­ing, one word in Rich’s poem flung me off like a piece of lime­stone skid­ding from a speed­ing tire. Startled, I held my skull plates, let dis­tur­bance fall, and climbed back up. But the wrong word was still there, and left me dis­trust­ful, hes­i­tant to slide back into the lines.

I read that every crea­ture if it lives long enough gets can­cer­ous tumors, except ele­phants, naked mole rats, clams, and bats. I can­not keep up with learn­ing new soft­ware. Three peo­ple I know have abnor­mal brain scans. Their doc­tors dis­agree about what the images mean. The boy across the street dyed his hair with bleach so it stood up like a bunch­grass hum­mock. He was tak­en out of school for poor social behav­ior. A lab test showed I had a bac­te­r­i­al dis­ease, and the drug for it turned my urine orange.

I want to go back and say, Please change the word, but that poet is gone. I sat on my porch wear­ing a par­ka, wait­ing for my fer­al cat to appear and play eye-blink­ing games with me. She and I have been chat­ting like this for sev­en years. Insects car­ry bones on the out­side of their bod­ies. Some beings, even if they have no brain, like sea anemones, seem to know they have a right and left side. The aor­ta shoots trib­u­taries for blood out through­out the chest, in a pat­tern unique to each per­son. A friend who writes mys­ti­cal sto­ries told me there is a tall pink angel stand­ing next to me. It has no sex. I haven’t decid­ed whether to let it guide me.



We were at the Window Motel putting on our paja­mas and Dad was yelling that Mom did­n’t help him back up right and he hit a big rock that broke the muf­fler and it was all noisy and there would be a bill. On the radio a lady was singing Help me I think I’m falling, and I slipped out the door. It was misty, like smog but with water in it. It was our California vaca­tion and I nev­er saw smog like that before. Maybe it would kill the fish which we were going to catch the next day. We were going to pay to catch fish. There were dead leaves all around the park­ing lot edge, wet from the mist, and I picked them up and cov­ered my feet with them like I was a stat­ue in win­ter. Maybe I could pile them high up and dig a tun­nel inside and no one would remem­ber me and I could stay in the mist and find my own fish. Maybe I could dress like a pel­i­can. I was ready to fly.



Up a for­est road, cut to stop fires. Off trail, a flag scrap point­ed a turn behind a pine stand. But what about night, I said. Memorize, he said. Learn the angles. Storms and dis­ease have cracked limbs, twist­ed growth, leav­ing every tree turned its own way. We lay on a tarp over nee­dles. He walked into town days, to tell horo­scopes. My edit­ing jobs bus­ied me till late. Soon I could fol­low twi­light­ed Ys and Xs and Ls of cross­ways twigs toward the camp. He rant­ed on about how his wife cast him out, his crag­gy face red with angry blooms. Sometimes his eyes froze into glass. He nev­er spoke of the war. One evening I slid my hips against his hard mus­cles. Oyez! he cried. Begone volup­tuary, hot-blood­ed Jezebel! I stum­bled out, break­ing branch­es under my feet.


Clown Nose

It’s good he did­n’t know the jack­et was orig­i­nal­ly my mother’s. He flinched at the pink fra­grance of that Polartec zip-up. Where is my leather valise, I want my top coat from Woolf Brothers, Gary Cooper would have worn a hat, don’t give me those Velcro plas­tic slip­pers. Luckily some­one stole his eye­glass­es, which I’ve heard hap­pens a lot here.

Applesauce! said Fat Boy. That meant it was time for me to leave. When I got back his butt would be cleaned up. I found a plas­tic chair in the flu­o­res­cent microwave room– I was always car­ry­ing a New Yorker for these intermezzos–but bro­ken salt pack­ets and spilled ketchup skipped across the dinette. I dragged the chair to anoth­er table, jud­ding its rub­ber feet. That mess is my fault, said a guy lean­ing against the baby fridge. He had rosacea and slur­ry-sleepy eyes. My wife doesn’t pick up after her­self when she cus­tomizes her meals. They’re talk­ing about a taro root diet next, like con­gee only Hawaiian, so maybe she’ll vom­it less. Oh, you didn’t need to hear that. It’s for­tu­nate I’m unem­ployed at the moment—it’s per­fect for tak­ing care of her as she is. I prob­a­bly know what you mean, I said. We’re push­ing through the con­stric­tions here. That thing with the glass and the sand run­ning through the tiny hole.

I liked the guy because he was­n’t good-look­ing at all–I threw off the sheen of being blow-dry styled, ready with a quip and a clever project to pitch. They say you should get com­fort­able before mak­ing oth­er peo­ple com­fort­able, he said. That’s why I do yoga in her room next to the hos­pi­tal bed. I wear a clown nose sometimes—it keeps her sur­prised. Hey, I’m behind on my own prac­tice since my father got like this, I said. Maybe you could guide me back into a rou­tine, how­ev­er sim­ple? Thank God for you, he said. That’s just what I need—a basic kitchen exercise!

I slipped my shoes aside and pushed fur­ni­ture away. The floor was slip­pery fake linoleum—a petro­le­um-made thing to imi­tate an old­er petro­le­um-made thing—so I took off my wool socks. I wasn’t cold. It’s always hot in these places—people who live here have turned back into fish. They get slow. I flipped front­ward plac­ing my palms flat, Uttasana, then my elbows to the floor, Dolphin. But there I was—as always, try­ing to impress. Naw! said the guy. This is your scam. Camel! Assume the posi­tion, he ordered. That scared me. I can’t do Camel, I said. No time like the present, he said. Then Fat Boy strode in push­ing the apple­sauce trays. Shoulder blades back and down, said Rosacea Guy, and I knelt on the floor and pre­pared to arch. This is love­ly, I said. You’re out of uniform—off you go, said Boy to Guy. I pressed my neck open, my shoul­ders back like a neck­lace mod­el prepar­ing to meet death.


Susan Nordmark’s writ­ing appears or is forth­com­ing in Michigan Quarterly Review, New World WritingTupelo QuarterlyLos Angeles ReviewBellingham Review, and many oth­er jour­nals. She lives in Oakland, California.