Listen to yourself. These noises coming out of your mouth: do they ring familiar? You’ve said them, shaped them this way with your anger-heated mouthparts, propelled them with this tenseness in your chest, this burning and nausea below your liver and diaphragm, uncountable times. Is this a natural process? An oscillation between metastable states? Are you Old Faithful, erupting bile on a schedule? Should there be tourists standing around checking their watches, camera-phones ready to catch snapshots and video? Discarded soda cans and burger bags and after-hours condoms and their wrappers?

Same people, same situations, same cycles, same words, same tears. Perhaps you’d like to stop now?

Listen to what you can hear when your own mouth is closed. Your sparring partner there, with milk and whisky on his breath, is content to carry on his part without you. Watch how his eyeballs, pink and blurry with strained capillaries, wobble. See him pause in strange places in his repetitive near-sentences to draw a breath. His words are an overlay. He is just an angry dog barking. The words in that, slathered on top, are a pathetic attempt for a disused frontal lobe to pretend to itself to have control. He is a mammal. Barking. Nothing more.

Don’t smile. You were doing it too. Just barking. Two dogs through a metaphorical chainlink fence.

You are about to make him angrier. Just leave. But carefully. Don’t storm out. The body language of that is just a different kind of barking. You are standing at the metaphorical fence, looking over the yard for the owner, a one-time friend. He is not present. Instead, there is a barking dog. It will not stop barking. So just turn and walk away. Maybe the owner will be around to talk to later.

That’s it. Perfect.

The walls of this place must be soaked through with the noises you and he have been making all these years. Peel off the yellow paint, that unfortunate contact paper beneath it for which the previous residents were responsible, the huge floral print wallpaper beneath that that must have made anyone in the room feel like they nibbled the wrong corner of Alice’s caterpillar’s mushroom, the gray plaster-filled plywood paneling beneath that, and those spaces between the studs, those wall cavities, must be like the Kenelly-Heaviside layer for trapping and bouncing old signals from old arguments — or the same argument echoing back and forth like light between two mirrors, the same words, traveling for hours, weeks, months, years, until it achieves laser-like coherence from self-repetition. Trapped in those walls. These walls.

That’s right. Extend the metaphor. You’re nearly there.

Vacuums are magical. Create a vacuum such that it is physically possible for only one thing to fill it and the universe will oblige by producing that thing from nothingness and depositing it in the space you’ve created. Look at this space you are in. See how perfectly you fit it. Think of how long you have been bouncing back and forth between these walls, between floor and ceiling, until your waveform has settled, rough edges filed off, until you are the perfect standing wave for this cavity, coherent from years of reflected parallel travel.

The part of you that does not fit this place is already outside and has been for years. Waiting.

This next part might be painful, but it is critical. Do not be afraid. In order to escape this trap, something must happen to change you so that your shape is wrong for this space. Just cross the carpet, get the door open to the hallway so your open apartment door is visible from the elevator. This really is the only critical part, so don’t fuck it up. You’ve tripped on this strip of runner carpet a thousand times, this cheap faux-Persian thing, dusty and cat-fur-matted regardless of the weekly vacuuming, but that’s not going to happen today. The globby no-skid strips you put under it two weeks ago to keep the cat from shifting it on his two-AM rampages are doing their job. One corner might be peeking out from underneath. See it? There it is.

Now is the perfect time to notice how the sun has faded the brightness from the wall in the living room it can reach, bleaching a fuzzy-edged rectangle-cornered partial analemma into the baby-blue-that-used-to-be-cornflower. The unequal figure-eighted analemma is the symbol for the encapsulated year. Open the door and the infinity symbol is broken. You don’t even have to go through it.

There you go. Perfect.

This strip of carpet is a lot dirtier close up. You should have thrown it away rather than bothering to nail it in place with the tacky stuff. Or maybe it’s the vacuum that needs replacing. But right here, with your face pressed against its furry grittiness, it’s intolerable. Right here, tasting blood in your mouth, smelling copper and tin in your sinuses, ears ringing from the impact of the nauseating punch to the back of your head, the weight of the angry dog of a man on your back, rucking up your dress, this carpet really needs to go.

But right now it’s cushioning your forehead from the hardwood as the man-beast on your back, fingers clenched in your hair, repeatedly pounds the one into the other.

Yes. This changes the shape of things.

With a prosaic “ding!” the elevator door opens, and there is a face, and you escape.


January 2, 2012 · Posted in fiction  

The dirt trail off the tree-crowded park’s concrete-paved path is short but steep. Step over the ankle-high rusted chain and work your way up. Crest the hill and go down the rock-pelted clay until you cannot be seen. Shoulder your way between the scrub pines, ignoring the scuffing of your jacket and the fragrant rain of dry, dead needles into your hair. The patches of rusty brown in what should be evergreens hides the vacant, pale morning sky from you. Look down, away from the invisible sky, and let your eyes adjust to the darker colors around you. In fact, close your eyes and listen.

Your presence has called for silence among the birds. Crows and bluejays and other branches of the Corvid families live in these trees, social and intelligent and talkative, but they’ve ceased conversation until they determine what you know, what you’re up to.

Lean back against this dying pine. Rest your hatless head against the crumbling bark. Keep your eyes closed.

Distant sounds of car traffic come and go, filtered out unconsciously. Cars are occasional obstacles, things to be avoided and skirted as they travel, like wildebeest on the savanna. Right now they are not in your world. A squirrel skitters along a thin branch somewhere in a tree behind you, many yards distant. You can almost hear it pause and fluff its black tail. Most squirrels are black here. You know this.

Beneath your skull, in the meat of the pine, you hear a beetle gnawing. Many of the trees you have seen and touched — see them in your mind now. See how they weep thick, yellow, resinous sap. This is why brown needles are falling. This, and the long time between good soaking rains this year.

You make out the smells of beetle-gnawed bark, of the remaining fresh green needles, of decaying leaves of the occasional deciduous hardwood like boiled tea. Humus leached free of anything useful by what rain there has been, sucked dry by hungry roots. Dropped feathers. Bird dander. Squirrel armpits and crotches. Yesterday’s dogs. Volatile ammonias from a distant river. Ozone from burned air, from either long-ago lightning or maybe jet exhaust. A discarded apple core back on the main path.

A droplet of fresh sap pulls at strands of hair on your head. Ignore this.

Open your eyes again. Do it.

The base coat of this wooded painting is rich in the warm browns favored by Rothko in his final paintings before his self-murder. The scene is too bright to look at for a moment, striated by thick-textured vertical strokes from a fat, lazy, paint-clogged brush from a 1960s hardware store, often used but never properly cared for. Ice-cool blues and rust-oranges salt the top of this work. But keep your eyes down, dark-adapted.

Chill dry air burns the skin of your face to powder as it eddies around, turns the end-joints of your ungloved fingers to unfeeling pencils. A distant beastmobile honks for attention.

Slide down to the base of this tree. Let the bark tug your jacket up, pull your flannel shirt up your back and untuck it from your jeans. Sit on the leafmould, let the chill air suck heat from the exposed small of your back. Let the crowded ground suck warmth from your ass through thin denim. Your comfort is irrelevant. That is not why you are here.

Do you smell it yet?

Dig the fingers of your right hand into the leaf-litter. There should be hard clay beneath it, eventually. Ruin your nails. Dig deeper. Stiffen your chilled fingers and stab them downward like the skulls of burrowing snakes.

Close your eyes again. Do you smell it now?

That rounded stone you’ve discovered blocks your questing fingers. Uncover it. Use both hands. Bend your legs out of the way. Twist on your seat until you can bring both hands to bear.

A crow complains. It knows. Do you?

The stone is loose. Pull it free. Pull the shredded-skin-wrapped skull free from the soil and set it in your lap. How small it seems, warmer than it should be.

This. This is how you will end. Feel it to your core.

How did you come to be here? You came straight here, off the park’s paved walkway. You came straight here, with no wandering, sat down right here, dug straight down with your hands, and found this gift I have left for you.


Were you the one who put it there, this grim present for your future self? Or is this some kind of hysterical joke at your expense?

What will you do now?


January 1, 2012 · Posted in fiction  

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