Kindness

my daughter and I pass
the back door of the building
cowboy hat man smokes

my daughter’s bag slips
down her shoulder slope a bit
cowboy reaches for her

she hops off the curb
into the still parking lot
zips away from him

her eyes rolling to him
showing off much of their white
the way cows’ eyes roll

cowboy looked at me
laughed like what you gonna do?
what to do, partner?

with his mouth open
I could see his gums hanging
black blanks for fled teeth

I think he reached out
to pull the backpack strap up
her twitchy shoulder

sank away from help
sometimes kindness terrifies us
holy hell they’re awful

the dangling gums of the kind

Kindness

In the Kitchen in the Morning

My dad had the paper. Shook that paper. Shake, shake. Like let’s get some music from this paper. Show me what this paper can do.

I prayed before I had my cereal. Prayed hard. Each top eyelid crushing each bottom eyelid. Please make me a mutant. I want to be able to infuse objects with kinetic energy so they explode. And have heightened agility. Please, Lord. Even if it’s just agility.

There was a honk outside because my younger sister went with another family to visit the old folk’s home on whatever the day was. She didn’t want to go. The birds in the maples that jerked in the sharp blue sky didn’t care that she didn’t want to go.

“You’re fine. Don’t go downstairs,” my dad said. Yeah, don’t go downstairs. That’s for sure. “You can stay upstairs this time. You don’t have to go downstairs.”

My sister’s mutant ability was old people thought she was a boy.

“Go to Hopewell today,” my dad said to my sister. He stood up. Hopewell was what they called the place people went to settle in to being dead. There they dipped a toe into the Styx, tried it out. My dad put the paper down and went to the door, opened it. Put a hand on my sister’s shoulder and scooted her out the door. “Tomorrow we’re going to the fair.”

I prayed something desperate would happen at the fair and the stress would reveal my abilities.

Last time my sister went to Hopewell, she went downstairs. Downstairs the lights didn’t work. They flickered. It’s where they tossed the people who had walked so far down dementia road that they’d gotten to the place where the pavement becomes chunks becomes gravel becomes spaces between gravel becomes just white space trying on white space. It smelled like urine that far down the road, down the stairs.

“What a nice little boy,” said a woman who wore a dental bib because she couldn’t stop drooling. Kshzzk. Kshzzzzzk. The lights flickering. “I want a hug from the nice little boy,” the woman said.

The CNA with my sister said, “She’ll give you a hug.” She scooted my sister toward the woman, hand on my sister’s shoulder. The drooling woman grabbed my sister and pulled her in. She opened her mouth and bit my sister’s arm. She had no teeth, so as bites go, this wasn’t one. But she clamped, and my sister cried out, pulled away, pushed the woman’s head away with her free hand, and the drooling woman laughed. It was surprising for someone to intend to bite you, and try to, and then laugh about it. What a surprise for my sister.

My sister going to Hopewell again, I crunched my cereal between my teeth. I looked down at my shorts. They were long, sort of billowy, gray with darker gray splotches, a drawstring. Not bad, I thought. Good for free movement. The shorts themselves heightened my agility.

My dad shook that paper. The corn husk pages slapped against each other, dry and crisp.

“Let’s see what the carnies are up to,” he said. The crime blotter got good with the fair in town.

I prayed for a more stressful breakfast, one that would help me express hidden abilities. The chirping birds outside failed me. When I poured them, the cornflakes sounded like dehydrated coins in the bowl. Did they smell like urine? Maybe. Something tangy in the smell of cornflakes. I’ve tried to figure that out. I still don’t know.

My dad’s mutant ability was to never have to lick his finger to turn the page.

In the Kitchen in the Morning

Speedy Gonzales in Decline

Speedy walks through
the streets of the city,
yesterday’s heat still echoing
in the round smooth houses
ready for the slanted sun,
as he remembers being fast.

Up ahead he sees a crow
perched on the curb.
He turns down an alley.

A woman leans out of a window
and in the glowing hands she extends
out into the air

she holds a mousetrap.
The metal arm and balsa plank
clench against a body.

She lifts the arm, the body drops
into the street.
Too small to splat or thud
it makes a blurrier sound
we don’t have a word for.

Speedy tells himself not to look
and has this thought:
“Why’d they put so much savor
in the unsavory?”

He thinks about how long
he stands at the traps
smooth round squares of cheese
and how it feels—
a newer feeling for him—
to want something
he can’t have.

Speedy Gonzales in Decline

Thirty Minutes After I Placed the Order

the pizza deliver boy
arrived with two pizzas.
I showed him my gun
explained why he couldn’t leave.

He seemed relieved and asked
should he put his hands
behind his head or anything?

I looked at Corinne
the humor of this guy thinking
I stood on that kind of ceremony
her face beautiful
even when glowing hatred.

The pizza delivery guy asked
Continue reading “Thirty Minutes After I Placed the Order”

Thirty Minutes After I Placed the Order

Peace Like a Restroom

I have barricaded myself in the bathroom. I listen for footfalls. I listen for their whiffling groans and small shrieks.  Everything is quiet. The bathroom is the last refuge. The doors—the bathroom has two—are locked. The lights are off. Everything is still. I can feel my heart-rate begin to drop. I begin to exhale deep, even breaths.

You know how it works. The disease passes from one to another. A slight wound is all it takes. From the vantage of early morning I would not have guessed my current, pathetic position—sitting on the side of the tub, trying not to cry.

But one of them told the other that she wanted the hair band back. A struggle ensued. Wailing. “She scratched my eye! She scratched my face and my eye!” The transformation from victim to victimizer takes only a moment. The poison, the pathogen works so fast. The bright eyes darken. Blood and destruction flood the vision. They begin the hunt for other victims.

Three on the couch watching Master Chef Jr. The two shufflers shuffle in. The three on the couch don’t notice the change. The shufflers stand in front of the TV.

“Move, we can’t see,” the three on the couch say. No response. “You have to move,” they say again. Nothing. “Move right now.” The head of one twists around, unnatural. The face has lost the light of consciousness, a sick distortion of the light of humanity lurks behind the eyes. The other’s head bends straight back, the neck extending so that the head travels past the shoulders, slides down the spine. The eyes glare, upside down in the face, at the three on the couch. Both attack, vigorous with rage. All five now shuffle and wail.

I am in the garage, moving bikes and bike trailers and snow tires onto the driveway. My husband went to rent a pressure washer from the building supply. I have earbuds in and am learning about gourmet ramen in the Los Angeles area from Jonathan Gold. I hear a wail. I take an earbud out to listen. I guess it was nothing. As I put the earbud back in, the wail comes back. Others join it. I know what’s happening. They’re coming for me. The door to the garage opens, but I’m already running, out through the open bay door, around the front of the house. Blood thumps and swishes in my ears.

I stand at the front door and listen until I can hear them in the garage, still wailing. I wait. I can hear them heading into the back yard. I open the door and flash inside. The bathroom is a keep. I have a moment’s hope. Maybe a dim memory of the bathroom as a place of privacy has stayed with them, even in their decaying state. Maybe enough of the old neurons are firing that they will leave me alone here. Maybe they’ll respect the inviolable sanctuary of the bathroom.

But now I begin to hear moans, unutterable groanings, too deep for words, and the shuffling footfalls. A shudder riffles through me. They pursue me even here. There is no escape. A hand falls heavy on the door. Another. Clawing, scratching. My shoulders heave and the panic takes me over. Nothing will stop them. Their grief, their pain, their vengeance, whatever it is that drives them, knows no boundary. Even here, in the safest of places, in the peace of the rest room, the moaning and the pounding build. I know there will be no release but death. They will not stop until I am wholly consumed. I know this.

I open the door.

Peace Like a Restroom

Here Comes the Box

When you watch one of my power point presentations, I enthrall you. My power point presentations . . . to you they are waking dreams. You do not realize that I have placed inside my power point presentations . . . messages. They are subliminal messages. I don’t want you to buy product. I want you ready to open the box when it arrive at your house.

My power point presentations entertain you with wit. If lunch is at hand very nearly, between slides of chart and number, I put up a picture of a delicious looking sandwich and say, “Sorry, that’s a picture of my delicious lunch.” Everyone laughs. If there’s a fat man in the audience and his name is Maynard I say, “Sorry, that’s a picture of my delicious lunch . . . don’t get any ideas, Maynard.” Everyone loves it. To explain: I call out any fat man, even if his name is not Maynard. I just use Maynard as an example because he fresh in my mind.

The box, when it get to your house, it is like any box. Brown, pfffft. Regular box. But something about the box . . . you don’t like it. It isn’t heavy, but something shake around inside, a bit loose like. What is it? But you don’t want to know, because the box . . . it give a bad feeling. Oh, goodness. But you have seen the power point presentation. You have a little subliminal message rattling around in your head like something in a box that you don’t know what it is.

After you seen my power point presentation you will think, “Pretty good.” Several times maybe through the next few couple days you think, “I like that.” And sometime you try to think “Who was that guy? He gave the power point presentation?” And you will try to form a picture in your own head of me and who I looked like, and you will get the fringes of my puffy hair, the tips of my big ears, but in the middle where the face is, you will not get nothing. “What he look like?” you say to yourself. Oh, goodness. No idea. Just fuzz. Like my face is giving you the bad finger on American television. Pfffft. You will think, “Just a normal face.” Maynard sat for a long time when he try to remember my face. Nope. Nothing. Just slow look on his own face.

And the box get dropped on your door. Oh, no. Here’s the box at last. And you ignore your better angels of your nature, they all scared off by powerful subliminal messaging. And you think, “I take that box in my house and open it up. See what’s inside.” Oh, no. The last thing you should do. But there you go, doing it. Lifting it up, being careful. Dash it on the ground, that would be better for you. Don’t be careful with it. Bad idea being so gentle with it.

I watch. I can see you with the box. I watch you, I watch Maynard, pick up the box. Go inside.

I see Maynard set the box down inside the house. Oh, Maynard. He’s fat. His wife left him. Not only because he’s fat. Maynard has a thought, maybe something in the box is a fix for me. Oh, fat Maynard. No.

He still at this point okay and fine if he just don’t open the box. But oh, gee, does he want to know what inside the box. The box has even started drip a little. Got wet on the bottom of the sides. It doesn’t look good, the box. It look like “guuh”. Not good.

Then Maynard open the box. Then he look inside the box. Oh, goodness. Then Maynard his mouth open so wide. So wide, indeed. Too wide if you see him. Oh, Maynard. He remember then, my face. It come back to him just then, just at the end. He see in the mind of the eye and think he should have known.

Here Comes the Box

Clearing the House

I don’t know who’s responsible, but our home is full of landmines. The cat pads through the living room. A small, but still deafening, concussion. Boom. Cat intestines on the TV, cat brains on the couch. We’ve considered getting a new sofa cover anyway.

Here we go.

We’ve just entered the house after going out for donuts on a Saturday morning. When the cat goes up, my four children and I are still in the kitchen, distributed on either side of the island. My wife is at a craft bazaar. Our plan was to start our Saturday cleaning as soon as we got in the door. So much for that.

“Freeze,” I say. “Tim,” I shout to my oldest, “get the metal detectors.” They’re in the garage.

“Don’t go through the house,” I say, because I know that this kind of obvious instruction is necessary.

He’s standing right next to the front door. He opens it, steps gingerly outside. The rest of us, myself and the four younger children, stand stock still. “It’s going to be okay,” I tell everyone. I smile, but I can feel how thin the smile must appear.

We wait for a long time. That’s okay. It’s important to remain calm. We wait for longer. “Tim!” I yell. After a pause the door in the living room, the one that communicates directly to the garage, pops open. Tim stands there. “What was I supposed to do?” he says.

I breathe deeply. “Get the metal detectors,” I say.

“Right!” Tim says, widening his eyes to emphasize that he knows that he should have known this. He disappears back into the garage and then pops back through the door with three metal detectors.

“Got em,” he says.

“We need all five,” I say.

“Ugh,” says Meg, my second oldest.

“I’m tired,” says Paul, the youngest, the toddler.

“Shut up!” Tim says to Meg. “Sorry!” The sorry has an exasperated spin on it that completely annihilates the apology.

“Don’t say ‘sorry’ unless you’re sorry,” says Violet, the third oldest. She looks at me and smiles after she says this, because it’s something I say and she wants me to know that she’s been listening.

“Throw those three to us and then go get the other two,” I say.

“Okay,” Tim says.

I should predict what Tim does next, avoiding it with a more specific command. He attempts to throw all three metal detectors across the room in a single heave. The knot of metal detectors makes contact with the floor. Boom.

Incredibly, the forward inertia of the detectors, undergirded by the blast, throws them towards us. I catch two. Meg catches the other. Meg glares at Tim. He turns abruptly and goes back into the garage.

One of detectors is damaged beyond repair. I lay it gently down on the ground. Meg and I start up the others. Both appear to be working.

“Get Mom’s to replace the damaged one,” I yell to Tim out in the garage. I hear an exasperated groan from the garage.

I turn to Violet who’s right next to the sink, and the cupboard underneath the sink.

“Very carefully, open the cupboard and get the flags out.”

We have little mine flags, with one weighted end so we can mark the mines. Violet retrieves the flags. I divvy them up between the children. I scan the area with the detector, shuffle over to Paul and lift him onto the island.

“You get to stay up here,” I say.

Tim appears back in the doorway with the other two detectors.

“Got em,” he says.

Before I can warn him, direct him back out the front of the garage and in through the kitchen door, he steps into the house. Boom.

There goes the firstborn. You have to tell them absolutely everything.

The three detectors lie on the floor.

“Everyone stay still,” I say to the remaining children. My detector hums and beeps as I pick my way over to the fallen machines. I pick two of them them up, turn them on one at a time. They work. I pick my way back to the other children. Paul is defacing the island with a marker. Fine. I take him down and equip him with a detector.

“We’re going to work through each room,” I say. “Meg, you go back to your room. Clear it and mark anything you find.”

“I didn’t put any mines down,” she says.

“Neither did I,” I say. “But we’re all going to help detect and mark the mines together. Because that’s what we do.”

Meg grumbles as she carefully sweeps the hallway. I turn towards Violet.

“Bathrooms?” she says, showing me that she’s anticipated the order, making sure I notice.

“Bathrooms,” I say. I give her a smile. I try not to reward brown-nosing, but I prefer it to complaining.

From her bedroom Meg shouts, “Does Paul have to do anything?”

“Paul is three,” I shout back. “He can help me. We need this house cleared, all mines swept, before your mother gets home.”

Paul and I work carefully through the living room. We work through the kitchen. Everything is going well. We’ve identified ten possible mines. No concussive explosions elsewhere in the house.

“Bathrooms are done!” Violet shouts.

I scan my way over to check. I wave the detector over the flawless floor in the corners of the first bathroom. The machine screes its warning in two of the corners. I put flags down.

“Sorry!” Violet says. She scrunches up her face in a way that I can tell she thinks is cute. I roll my eyes.

“Go help your sister in your room,” I say. She sweeps her way to the room.

I sweep my office, finding three more mines there.

I go to check the girls in their room. No flags down. They’re both sitting on the bed looking at books when I enter the room. They adhere to the opposite logic of Toy Story when they’re clearing a room—meaning that if I’m not watching them, they’re lifeless. As soon as I catch sight of them, they’re active again.

Violet, eager to not be caught goofing off, stands up too fast and loses her balance, puts a foot down in terra incognita. Boom.

I turn to Meg.

“What have you been doing in here?” I say.

“Clearing!” she says.

“So you’re saying that if I step here . . .” I make a motion to put a foot down.

“No no no,” she says. I stop.

“I’m setting a timer,” I say. “I want this room cleared in ten minutes.”

Paul and I do another sweep, double-checking everything. Paul looks like he’s getting tired. The timer goes off. I go back to Meg’s room. She appears to have been working diligently. She’s placed seven flags. I feel relieved.

“This looks good,” I say. “See, if you stay focused, it’s not so bad. You and Paul can watch something.”

She sweeps them out to the couch, they turn on the TV. I’m exhausted. I go back to my room to lie down. The hallways are cleared and marked. We have the rest of Saturday.

As I open the door to my room, I put a foot down without thinking, without sweeping.

Boom.

Clearing the House