Beyond The Cellar Door – Jane DeHart

I live beneath the floorboards, deep within the cellar shrouded in darkness, curled up into a corner, sobbing into my hands. I do not dare to step outside. Beyond the cellar door is a twisting symphony of broken glass, hurling through space and time. Beyond the cellar door are seething eyes which drill like melon ballers into my skull, probing and piercing. Beyond the cellar door are rays of ghastly white light, which burn and blister my skin, spotlighting my grotesque appearance as if on a freakshow stage.

The cellar is a horrid place. The damp aching walls serve little room to stretch, leaning inward to suffocate my presence. A featureless cold floor presses harshly against my palms. The air is molded and noxious, rising upward to meet rotting beams and exposed wiring. And the cellar door; it is perched high upon the wall like a window, letting faint traces of white light invade the shadow drenched chamber. The door is unimposing in nature. It is built of an antique ashen wood forgotten by time, warped and splintered and unkept. It stares me down, but a latch away from promise.

Within my shell are vast collections of antique stories written by the outside world. They have always been here, strewn in heaps layered with dust, judging the impossibility of my reimagination, as if to mock my pitiful sheltered existence. The books tell me of vast sparkling cities and lush roaming fields, of sweet tastes and silken sounds. I wish greatly to see these relics with my own shielded eyes, arms outstretched into soft crisp air, nevertheless I stay coddled within damp walls, sobbing on and onto tomorrow. To step outside the cellar door is to let the masses witness my grotesque agony played out before them. A face of reserved features, beady black eyes, a thin smile, all framed by pale pink opaqueness. A skin soft as velvet, a dull smooth surface beneath an exposed web of delicate nerve endings, to which a mere breath could enflame. 

I routinely hear footsteps weigh down the creaking floor over my head. I have grown to expect it and savor the unseen movements of the strangers. I do not know who lives in the house above, but I have learned to guess their ages from the varying intensities of their patrolling. Heavy steps of leather soles echo wildly each afternoon; the father returns home from work with weary eyes and aching limbs. Though I am most obsessed with a faint trail of footsteps with no solid pattern, almost too soft to hear. It sounds in scattered movements across the floor each day, peculiarly pausing, then continuing its playful trek. I have come to know they belong to a child, gentle and sweet, fragile as a spring flower.  Occasionally the steps are followed by a resounding thump, a stretch of silence, and a pitiful whimpering emitting through the floorboards. The cries claw at my heart in throbbing repetitions, drawing out my own wretched noises.  I hear myself in the child.

In the opposite corner of where I weep, is an ancient relic of my birth, a pestilent reminder of lost hope and damned reality. A sheer skin lay crumpled and torn before me; a near perfect cast of my figure. Upon the abdomen is a gaping exit wound of tattered skin, a breach, an escape from the claustrophobic cavity. I wish to crawl back into the opening, stretch my limbs into fragile sleeves, and wear the skin once more, to be afraid no longer, to step into the outside world. Yet the hope is in vain, for I cannot devolve. I scarcely recall my birth, neither do I wish to do so. A metamorphosis of the individual into a metaemotional mutation. To be shed of a painless reality, to be shed of the outside world, therefore I live beneath the floorboards, deep within the cellar shrouded in darkness, curled up into a corner, sobbing into my hands.

Today I encountered a new development behind the cellar door. To my annoyance, a seething pain lacerated my back in repetition, followed by a trail of agony making way across my skin. It touched my skin hypnotically like each tick of a clock. I raised my head to meet the ceiling in hopes to discover what wretched thing would inflict my broken soul. To my disappointment, I found the culprit: a lead pipe embedded within the wooden beams, withered by years of use was eaten away with rust, culminating into a steady drip of water pestering my back. I very much dislike the pipe. It does not belong to the outside world, it belongs inside the cellar, where I am kept safe. Yet here I sit within my shell, paralyzed with fear and in unimaginable agony. The pipe has cheated me.

I have now succumbed to the pipe for hours (for a frenzy of pain I have lost track), leaving a gaping bloody wound on my back where the droplets land. There is nothing to do now. I simply sit and weep into my hands, reaching no conclusion to cease the onslaught. To my poor notice, the salt of my tears has burned streaks upon my hands. The skin shrivels and peels across my palm. I pull at the opaque glove, revealing a morbid hand of exposed veins and nerves and muscle and bone. I attempt to close my heart to the horrific sight of what lay beneath my shell, but my eyes only widen. I have reached the next evolution. 

There is no promise beyond nor within the cellar door, no grand vistas of gentle sunlight, no damp shadows to keep me sheltered. The cellar door does not exist; it simply divides two miserable existences: a place of paranoid eyes and ringing ears and burned skin, and a place of self-pity and isolation and a leaky pipe. Awakening stirs deep within my wretched soul. Look at what lies were told by the dusty books which reside here with me. To where I turn is a mystery. In a rage, I tear a page from the binding, riding my eyes of its promise. No more can hope lead me astray. No more can useless words guide me to suffering. My attention drifts inward; I study my gruesome hand once more, in awe of its intricacy. I guide my outstretched finger onto the tattered page, staining the parchment, and begin to write. What lay beyond the cellar door? That is not a question to which I pay any mind. For it is a useless question. In place I ask: what lay within? What lay within the outside world? What lay within my old-worn skin? What lay within my agony? What lay within the cellar door?

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UNSAID 8 has arrived!

A show of hands. Who wants to order a copy?


Order through DZANK Books!

Unsaid has established itself as the most aesthetically distinguished and daring journal since Gordon Lish’s groundbreaking The Quarterly. In fact, Unsaid is in many ways the only true descendant of The Quarterly in its commitment to publishing only that which is entirely unfrivolous and genuinely original.”

—Gary Lutz, NEA Fellow, author of I Looked Alive, among other collections of fiction

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From the Unsaid Archives : “On the Mountain” – Brian Kubarycz – (from Unsaid One)


Before the sun had come around the top of where we could see a fire in the south over the planets, there, already, they had him by the hair.  Had the Dealer in the middle of where he had been spotted on by the birds, where he had lain filthy in Samantha’s dinner.  She had received him from the city for what trade she needed, for the beans, for the shortening, for a form of icepick he had made available to us for what we would be doing to any predator come round our house, come into our vicinity.

It was not the guns to be frightened of with us, nor the all we could swing at your head.  It was how we had a way of making you stay with us, and beginning slowly to tire you down till resistance was not allowed to you by your own body.

We had brought the Dealer into such a condition.  We had seen his elbow plant that much more casually at the table.  We detected the ease in his feet.  We had felt the Dealer’s hand find its way onto our backs.  And we had left it resting there.  Not one of us was one to flinch.  We did not draw back from the lips he insisted upon laying against our faces.  We accepted everything from that man we had stay on for the morning and the evening and the next week.  And when he was as casual with us as with the sounds of his own insides lying within him, we led him away to the elders, who would never be so gentle.

We led him up to the elders who at first had been difficult for Samantha.  She being a young girl when she first arrived here, and there was no knowing how quickly she would take to the way the elders had with women.  No knowing, for me, how very quickly she would take to them who left me out of the picture they illustrated before me.

They drew their ropes about their doors at night, and there was not a need for a lock, which could be broken under one thrilling thud from the shovel.  There was only the rope to tie twice around the bars that kept the door a part of the house, and then to go to sleep, with Samantha in between them.

And she did this in a spirit of conspiracy that frightened me for the first time I had been frightened since my life was decided to be on the yonder side of what was right for me from my father’s mouth.  It was my father’s mouth I saw in how they had beaten the Dealer about the knees with a piece of tree until there was no longer a point in making him feel the pain anymore.  No please nor pleasure in making him stop swinging.  No border anymore between the top and the bottom of his body.  It was at once on the man everything that needed to be belted.  He needed an unlashing, and a scooping too by now, had he been an animal.  He needed leaving for a while under the house until the sun got to him even under there and we began to feel the stink coming up from under the rug my mother might have beaten into cleanness.

This man was not from among the missionaries of any city.  And it was not immediately clear if he had family for the way he was not worried after his own dealings with the money he had coming from us.  He was not after his being paid back in any currency for the packages he had packed up the hill under the sunrise.  He was dealing in ways with us that had been to us every bit acceptable.  He was fingering the miniature bottle of powder he had brought to us.  He was bringing us the muddy jars of pharmaceuticals.  He was bringing of what wheels we could hammer onto boxes we sat on before sending them to the elders up deeper into the trees.

We were people, to him–we had a feeling about our interests in him–who could be trusted only to seek what was forbidden to them.

Butter was a thing Samantha wanted.  Beeswax and honey was another, and he could bring it.  Sometimes he needed to bring things and leave them quickly for the storm anyone could see was coming over the doorpost, for the wind through the window, for the colder that the loneliness of the scenery was beginning to feel here where we lived outside incorporated limits.  Several times the Dealer left what he had been asked, and he turned without taking his payment and added to his deliveries just a wave of his brimmed hat before finding his way back around the mountain by the baked mountain path that he took back.

Samantha had been the first one to speak with the Dealer.  She had been the first to receive any thanks from him during a visit.  He had a way of thanking by blowing his nose slowly into the lining of his coat, into what must have been tucked there.  It was what he brought out that was his thanks.  He thanked Samantha in the form of a magic trick, as if next time it might have been the rabbit coming out of his sleeve, the nickel coming out of your ear, the thermometer coming out of where it had yet to be stuck into him.  Samantha had, too, the habit of laughing at this, which seemed to do the trick for our business with him.

He was always coming one more time around the sunrise.  He was always one more time putting his fists up to his ears and having us guess which was the one with the silver piece in it.  And these were truly things we saw him do.  They were things we asked him to continue doing.  There were lines we continued to ask him to speak out to us about how his business with us was cleaner than his business with the elders farther up the mountain.  That it was none of his business what they were up to with their lariats and their happenings after sundown.  That he was just a gambler and a card dealer for a casino, and it was his business to do it respectably because of his children.  Because of the women that were dear to his existence, to the way he had of living off a planet that did not think kindly of his interests.

He came looking one day for birds.  There were birds, and big ones, where we lived.  These the men would eat.  They would hold them over the fire until the dying had died down.  They would bite wings with their teeth.  They cleaned their ears with beaks.  These were birds that, too, had their families.  They laid their eggs in the trees.  Laid them in feather nests plucked from the cumbersome birds that could fly only so much farther before they were no more. 

We had seen how it was with these creatures.  We had seen the men picking their bones, picking their teeth, picking their flintlocks when they heard it was me coming up looking after Samantha.  Pouring water over the coals so there was no light at all, only the odor of smoke.  They spoke to me with cigars between their teeth.  Everything they said to me had to be repeated if it was to be understood.  Everything they did with the women they told me were their own must be omitted if this story is to be gotten out.  If I were to tell myself again and again what it was that was happening to me as I heard the hissing between their teeth, as I heard their heavy heels and their breathing—how all the air was filled with the very instance of them—still I believe, eventually, I would forget for the sake of remembering other things.

There were mornings when Samantha was up before me.  There were evenings when we were practically a single being, a family.  She had me thinking of the religious feeling that we still managed to believe in, and that this was enough to be expected of anyone.  It was enough that we had gotten onto a green piece of God’s earth that no one had been offered or wanted.  It was ours and nobody’s from the beginning.  It was abundance for us, what little the Dealer could bring us, and a supper was never missing for him in the evening, anymore than you would be without your coffee in the morning.

Summer came and I made my way to where the elders had built an extra bedroom onto their cabin.  They had built it with Samantha as their reasonable demand.  They said it was inevitable that everything needed always to be moving deeper and deeper into the trees, that it was daily every bit a bigger commitment for the whole of us, themselves not excepted.  And if such progression didn’t mean anything to me, then they had with them the munitions and the leadership with which to visit upon me.  That I was free to leave and take the woman for all they were concerned.  It would be as simple as packing up the bundle that we had been allowed to bring in, and leave everything else we had gained along the way.  And they would be personally happy for me to see me leave, and as for the woman, she would be the thing most unfortunate about our ever coming up the mountain in the beginning.  It would be her burden to be lending me a hand on the way down, both of us hearing more and more of the noise that once had become nothing to us, and, now, every day would surely be more and more our perdition. 

But I never left, and I am glad that my world will be here until I am buried.  That Samantha will lie beside me.

For now, it is both of us the ones that continue to use as little as we can of what must one day appear to us in all its disease.  We must trust what we can of our own lotions, our larders, our remedies for the fever that reappears every year.  Samantha has many times asked me to leave her.  It has been a difficult persistence that has made her behave this way, a wish she has for simplicity, an admiration she has for what can be done with the road open before.

I have never told her of the one time I followed the Dealer back through the fields to where the mountain turns again into red earth and there is a clearing that marks now we are out of the mountains.  We came to this space over the course of four hours of hard bargains struck against the rock, which did not heed our feet.

It was the Dealer’s decision to bring me there.  To lead as if I had been witnessing just another of his tricks, as if I had been one of the sundries he produced from his sleeve.  He always pulling and pulling, puffing and puffing, until a color was produced from under the black cuffs.  He always leading the eyes with his little fingers cocked into a woman’s position, while it was all the while the thumbs that were miracle working.

We stood looking over the city.  Again he had his hand on my back.  He had his vision in the distance, and he asked me to believe there was nothing up his sleeve.

I told him home was nowhere for me but in the trees.  Nowhere but there with the elders under the night sky cracking before them into morning.  With the sawing away of each dawn into an evening, and with his always bringing and Samantha always receiving.

After, there were days when I believed at night I had, in fact, gone back with him.  And I began to dream of speaking to the mother I had left behind, as if she were living up on the mountain here with me.

It was the oddest thing I could recall about my father and the house that he had married in.  It was his fear that the willows would fall upon that house.  It was his fear that one of the storms would be strong enough to take down a tree on top of us in the middle of our sleep.  I remember him in the middle of the living room standing with his fingers in his ears.  He was my father pleading with the very trees to stop all the nonsense.  He was pleading with the still unfinished living room in which he was standing to fall on top of him now, and please leave the rest of us to remember how he had given us warning on the morning of the night he was gathered away.

These were the words that I heard from the Dealer, and the things I said to him, the man who had about tricked me into taking my life back from Samantha.  We spoke these things, and he showed me the path that she had me on, the path on the side of the mountain you do not come back from, the one I had so many times watched him travel only with his eyes. 

It was in the winter that they did to him what my family had done to me.  They had taken me to a place where they said, if I didn’t believe in their ways, then why didn’t I make my own image of the Creator?  They had taken me to the place they bury those who are dead to our house.  Those whose names are carved as deep as our own shall surely be.

They made me bring Samantha.  They made her hair uncomfortable for me to take into my hands.  They made it smell of everything unclean in a kitchen.  They made it smell of the oven on the day when there was company coming and my family had to leave before the others were able to make their visit.  There was the breaking and the singeing of the chicken, and the dumping by my father of the drumsticks and the organs over the porch.  There was the closing of the door, and then we were gone until it was certain the company had managed to let their appetites get the better of their manners.

I worked for my way out of the circumstances my family had given me.  I took years to build a kitty.  And I spent it on Samantha in the minute it took to sign the papers saying this will be where we will have a homestead of our own.  And then it was everything we had for the shock of actually having to live on it.  And we have lived here since.  Samantha has buried here three children which did not manage for the summer heat or the winter ice falling knives from the sky.  They are the things most we have given up to be here, and there will be no trading with the winds that carried them away.  There will be no way of making the elements repay.

The last time I saw the Dealer he was draining his mouth one last time on his sleeve.  He had one last time filthied his whiskers.  And he was feeling, I am certain, that it was a mistake for him to have come here in the beginning.  There were fortunes to be made, to be sure, in bringing up the things we needed.  And yet if it had been his to see into the future, I believe that still he would have made his fate be this same strangulation in the dimness.

That same day he hung under the rising sun.  There was nothing but batter come off of his tongue, nothing but sorrow come out of my heart, nothing but love of Samantha in all the air I breathed.

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Text – Melinda Davis

The following pages by Melinda Davis originally appeared in The Quarterly, Vol. 14, edited by Gordon Lish.




It was by brick he died, they decided–what else?–a young bridegroom, married only the seven nights of the sheva brachos, not a trefah mark on the body, money in the wallet, hands and clothes clean. A cigarette they find in his beard, burning. Books on the ground. A bag of soft peaches. A brick, spent, at rest, such a brick as could kill a person, plumbing the air above a head without even a whir, a clean plummet, a clean kill, kerplunk, dead, finished. The young wife takes off her shoes and tears her clothes and goes to the kitchen, cutting cake for faces, for mouths. Two men from the camera store come and bring another–the accountant? the carpenter? the one who sells hats?–and they take ladders from the back of an automobile (ah, you see, the carpenter) and they place the young bridegroom in the back where the ladders had been and they take him to a place where such a bridegroom as this is taken and they say to him, listen, you are only dead. You are dead only, nisht geferlich, not so terrible, it happens. Relax. Take it easy. Do not be afraid. You are in our hands. We will lift you up. You do not have to lift a finger. We will take care of everything, all of those things that are done for the dead. We will take away the evil that remains on your skin, the last traces of evil that cling to your lips as your soul leaves your body through your mouth to the mouth of God. We will explain it all for you. We will give you time to adjust. We will use warm water while it lasts. We will hold you in an upright position. We will not allow the flow of water to stop during purification. We will not allow your hair to stick to your eyes. We will do things for you now you may think are too sad to mention, but these things are the right things to do, these things we are doing, with all of this nice clean white cloth and these buckets of water and this white of an egg and this bag of sand. And listen, by the way, do us a favor, we mean only respect, we do not expect from you even a thank you, so forgive us, please, if we leave something out.

We are only human.

We are all going to die.


In the night, I hear frozen wings battering the ceiling, shards of ice and brick and plaster falling on the sheets, a siren, men shouting, a baby crying in a wall, large metal cans, a bus, a clock, nothing. In the morning, I see tea towels on my mirrors and people in my chairs, a woman cutting cucumbers, checking lentils, boiling eggs…men huddled, hidden in fringes, speaking in words for winged instrument and flute, a psalm, a song for a lyre, a low stool, no one answering the phone. This may all be true, all of it. Do I know? It has been a shock.


They keep coming to me with their questions. They keep coming to me wanting all the things that people want…they should find a house, a husband, their keys. They should know only simchas. It should be for the good. There should be a nice family to rent the basement. It should be, please God, not that word we do not say, that they find tomorrow morning, with their tests, in his gut. There should be a bocher to cross the children at the corner. There should be (you could help?) a little money for the wedding. There should be no harlots among the daughters of Israel. There should be rain for our land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and we should gather in our grain, our wine and our oil. It should happen in our day that a redeemer should come to Zion. There should be resurrection of the dead.


I dream that I am carrying him in water, water whirring between my skin and his, water-marked skin, the color of onions, smelling of wood, scenting the water, water fluttering, dry, feathered, lifting him up as I hear him breathing, lifting him away until the hearing stops. I wake up and I see that I have dirty hands. 


What can I do, do I have control over bricks? This brick they found, they brought me, this brick that did the deed. A red brick, a brick not so different from the bricks I have that hold together my house, my rooms, my life. Here it is, this brick, this brick that got past the code: a crumble in my hands, red, redder where it hit him, worn, worn down by what, the wind? The sun? The moon? The stars? A government inspection? The hand of a child? From bricks I know nothing. Nothing is what I know from bricks. These are the prayers we say for the dead. Tehillim, kepittel chof gimmel. Tehillim, kepittel tzadik aleph. Tzidduk ha’din. Av harachamim. Tehillim, kepittel mem tes. Tehillim, kepittel yud zion. Tehillim, kepittel chof bais. Tehillim, kepittel koof yud tes. Keil Malei Rachamim. Kaddish.


There is meaning here and I will find it. Something in the hour, the weekly portion, the seventh day…the number that derives from joining our names together, the names of our fathers and our father’s father’s father…a movement of spheres, a concealed light, a correction in the world for holy purpose: a tikkun. A tikkun, they tell me. A tikkun, a brick, a blooding. Do you remember how the first blood was mine? A separating blood, a first showing on the sheets, opening me, a knife in me, a sacred blooding before separation. A blooding, a brick, an unspeakable blooding. I sweep the floor while the living men watch me, before they lower you to the floor, before they close your mouth with a string and lower you to clean straw, clean sheet…a bed overturned, the smell of a match, a spilling of water on the floor. I had not seen the whole paleness of you as you breathed.


No no no no no no no no no no no no no no. A Jewish person does not worship the dead. For this we have the rest of the world. For this they have a world of dead Jews. For this they have the dead Yoshka. I can say this to her? I can tell her now, enough, finished? I can look at her, a child just, I danced with her on my shoulders, waving flags? I can look at her and say my darling, my maidel, the daughter almost of my almost daughter? Have we not seen death before, even of our littlest tinniest babies, our tiny babies? Do you think I do not also have pictures of death that come to me also in the night? That come to me over my fish…on the bus, in the toilet, in the mirror? My maidel? Do you think I do not have to push myself also from my sheets? To make a living, a cup of tea, what to give to the Brooklyn Union Gas? To show my face to God three times each day in shul? The IRS?


To what extent does one rend his garment? To exposing his breast down to the region of the navel; some say only down to the region of the heart. Although there is no authentic proof on this point, there is some allusion to it from the Navi’im, as it is written: Kiru l’vavichem v’al bigdeichem. Having reached to the navel on hearing another evil report, he moves away a space of three fingers from the former rent and rends afresh. If the forepart of his garment is become full of rents, he turns the garment front to back and then rends it again; if it becomes full of rents in the upper parts, he turns the garment upside down; but one who rends the lower part or on the sides of the garment has not discharged his duty, save the Kohen Gadol, who rends his garment below.


There is no new blood from me. There is to be no more sweeping away of life. I will be the mother. You will be the dead father. The child within me quickens and says kaddish at the appointed time. The child is surely a boy and should be standing nearer the ark.


There is a madness here, a madness. I must go over the text. It is all of it in the text, everything. Everything is in the text. There is a brick. It is written. It was by brick he died, they decided. Books on the ground. A bag of soft peaches. It is all written down.


She says she looks at the sky and can see the destruction of the wicked. She says the time has come for the coming of the moshiach, for bread to grow on trees, for women to give birth without labor. She says the time has come for the dead to awake in their graves and to roll underground until they reach Yerushalayim. She says redemption is here, in the merit of her bridegroom, in the merit of his death as our final sacrifice to God.


The shochet slaughters it, and the first Kohen at the head of the line receives it and hands it over to his colleague, and the Kohen nearest the altar sprinkles it once toward the base of the altar. He returns the empty vessel to his colleague, and his colleague to his colleague, receiving first the full vessel and then returning the empty one. There were rows of silver vessels and rows of golden vessels, and the vessels did not have flat bottoms lest they set them down and the blood become congealed. Afterwards they hung the offering, flayed it completely, tore it open, cleansed its bowels until the wastes were removed, and the parts offered on the altar were taken out, namely, the fat that is in the entrails, the lobe of the liver, the two kidneys with the fat on them and the tail up to the backbone, and placed in a ritual vessel, salted and burned by the Kohen upon the altar, each one individually. The slaughtering, the sprinkling of its blood, the cleansing of its bowels and the burning of its fat override the Sabbath, but other things pertaining to it do not override the Sabbath.


I do not believe the world. I do not believe how the world is going on, going to business, roasting chickens, boiling nipples, making beds. I have told them to gather their children, to clean their houses, to pack a bag, so that all will be prepared when the clouds come to lift them. I have told them to sound the sirens. I have spoken to a man from TV.

I have looked down on the men as they daven, as they dance, in great hammered waves of black and beard…their singing and their swaying, their egg and onion, their schnapps, their shoving for a place in the eyes of the Rebbe, their cries for redemption, their service of the heart. Until when? they shout with their children on their shoes. Until when? they shout with their fists full of bread. Can they not believe what they believe? Have they not read what is written?

Can they not write what must be written now?


Which of us is mad, then? Which of us? Am I to be the voice of the other side? Am I to speak for the evil inclination? I must go over the text from the beginning, taka. I must find the meaning in the words. It was by brick he died, they decided–what else?–a young bridegroom, married only the seven nights of the sheva brachos, not a trefah mark on the body, money in the wallet, hands and clothes clean. A cigarette they find in his beard, burning. Books on the ground. A bag of soft peaches. A brick, spent, at rest, such a brick as could kill a person, plumbing the air above a head without even a whir, a clean plummet, a clean kill, kerplunk, dead, finished. I look up and I see bread growing from the trees. I look down and I see the ground open beneath the bridegroom and I see his body begin to roll. On the street, the bricks of our houses are turned to sparks. I look up at the sky and I see the face of God.










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Taste Like a Sword – Barry Hannah



Why are you alive? they ask me.

It’s not the first time these two have been in here at that table almost in the street window there as you see. They march in and sit, light up, you bring them over that narrow plastic menu and say Hello again. Why are you alive? The hateful thing is he looks just like me, the other one who doesn’t talk much. But he searches my face for the answer, intent. Why are you alive? But he smokes and smokes, my old brand when I was a smoker. Their bicycles both lean together almost on the glass outside. I thought at first they were Mormon, that I was the only outlet for whatever meanness they had. But that wasn’t so. They are no church.

Even a monkey can imitate life, the speaker says. Other creatures can be taught to make the gestures of a man. I saw a chicken in South Carolina once could count change, which you barely have to do. But you’re coming along nicely. You’ve got the worthless cafe doper down almost exactly right.

The one who looks too much like me seems in a hurry with his glances, like, When are you going to get out of my way, out of everything’s way, I wonder? The other says, It would seem nature gets lonely for moving life. God must be so lonely, such a party guy. Just something that treads by as an example, and you were elected for this space.

He points to this area of the cafe and makes both his hands walk across the tabletop. They could be two starfishes on a stage. You’re not even a decent hole, he goes on. Why aren’t you a woman? Then you might give some good man fifteen minutes’ peace.

It’s sort of a scandal you’re male, yes. For godsake do something about your face. We’re eating here. Then he whispers: Where did you get the hair, where was that borrowed? I suppose to you your hair is somehow tragically significant and those shorts with your weenie legs and high-laced booties. Have you just come down off the mountain, dear friend, stamping out a forest fire, or have you just licked them with your spit and furred tongue? The other one just watches pale and with tired eyes like me. His clothes look like he bought them somewhere pricey though.

I think he will rise up and become me, absorb me, he is impatient for my space, is my feeling. But that must also mean there’s something good about me he has to have, and my silence leaves me in a superior position. He seems very tired from watching. I’d think he’s watched me at home too some way. The days keep going by and he just about has had it, is the feeling.

Across the room near the bar kneels Minnie Hinton. That same man is back at her table ordering his expensive whiskeys. Everything he does is costly. I believe he is a doctor gong to law school in his Mercedes convertible. Something about the law and medicine and some field where you just sit on your butt being smart for high pay, as I understand. I believe there is a broomstick far up him. I sense the end knob of it is about at his Adam’s apple in his throat in there. He moves off the axle of this long stick in him. He is short with square shoulders, square face, and some gray curls in his black hair like somebody near a condo pool looking sidelong at lesser creatures with open contempt. Thirty years ago where he lives they would call a pad. The disdain of this man is thick, is the feeling, with Minnie knelt there in front of him. He is moving ahead, always moving, down from his townhouse on the square and he resents he’s on the ground with the others and having to walk where they walk, is my sense. It is my personal persuasion that he is taking it up the butt but he is frightened by this fact, he the doctor. You see others of his kind taking it up the butt and they trot around with a combination of fear and disdain, somebody on their trail, they have the best drugs, they must be quick. Minnie kneels down before him. She wrings her hands looking into his face. His face is quiet, almost without expression, but his mouth is moving all the time, whispering, you can barely hear anything over here with the crowd. He must know this. From him there is a long hiss that never quits.

Once you are tuned into the hiss you can define it clear as a bell out of the casual buzz of the whole eatery. This is eatery and bar both and they have good music at night, but I’m jealous of the musicians and it hurts to listen to them having fun. I like the bad bands better, the ones with stupid humor and little talent. They make me feel at home and I might stay through midnight even after waiting tables all day. The girl followers of bad bands are my kind too. They like it bad and true talent frightens them. They will go home with you sometimes not expecting anything and pull apart their poor clothes and fall to love like simple honest mechanics who’ve been prepaid for repairing a part. Then afterwards you just walk around with a slight crush on each other and maybe never even see them again except on the arm of a new loser but giving you a smile like everything is understood and cruising in its right orbit.

But Minnie’s companion, who pays high for this act, is not casual. Things intended and designed pour out from him without stop, and it is the same Minnie, the goddess of this place and introduced to strange life by poverty, who fractures you in her quietness. She’s almost on her knees but I suppose actually in a crouch before his knees with his hands on each like a priest speaking his best sermon. But she is pitched close to the attitude of the outright kneel.

Slut tramp whore rimsucker harlot Ford Escort blow job, he keeps going on as she listens calmly. Hag bitch scum. In the whisper, hardly a breath between.

Yes sir, she says.

Right as hell you swallow it all. Gutter lizard.

Yes sir.

Right now, come and die bitch, right now. Get off and die. I’ll keep on while you’re dead.

Then he shows just a flick of his rock-hard eyes down at Minnie’s face. In that second you can see very sadly how much he wants to be her.

Netherson. I never meant to meet Netherson, who once for a whole week had nothing to eat in Amarillo, Texas. He slept in a park in Amarillo and played checkers for food with people better than he and always lost. The cops would come by rousting him from the park and other hard beds under trees near water. He was too weak to do much but sleep but he couldn’t even finish a nap. The cops had his number, and he was black as a further kicker. He is something of a legend here, having missed many meals back then in his questing youth. He hit the road with absolutely nothing, which those who write about it never really do. He never had a dog companion. He was just himself and bone needy all over the West, Northeast, Midwest, and South, where he finally stopped when work opened. Netherson as a bartender is a black zombie. He is moved by nothing, but he seems to be called by something, a voice is persistent in his forehead, you can almost see it in the wires of his temples. He is called away, he’s not standing here, not looking a you. Some believe he’s a god, especially the girls, he’s somebody long ago crucified now back to show you his hands, the ones pushing the drink to you, no expression in his face, nothing.

I did not want to meet him. He scares me. But once I saw those dead eyes briefly come alive to some softness like a hamster’s or a small child’s. He scares me like something out of a sea bottom. Behind him the putty is flaking down at the bottom of the long bar mirror where the sunlight always hits with that one beam, just that one beam. A flashlight beam at the bottom of Netherson’s sea and this disturbs me. People look at Netherson and laugh that laugh of deserted insides, very flat, no reaction from him. It occurs to me all the laughter here is like that. Even the two waiting for me to come back and get my treatment when I bring the order.

Minnie, almost to the full kneel like a woman in church, I think of her and Netherson getting naked together, for he is her man. That’s hard to realize. She’s his woman and you can’t believe he ever asked for anything. Although I am ashamed and even cruel sometimes, I need to be with some woman, testament to my existence. Be in a suit have some money sell something travel. Somebody would sort of miss me. Netherson stuck on himself in his zombiehood. If my cat would die I could have freedom and a personality maybe but I love the cat. She reminds me there is not much to it, only the noise, and sleeps three quarters of the day.

The hands on the clock seem like snakes any minute to curl out and fall on your neck. But on my boots I can rise, I am solid, I can stand with Netherson, I have the soul of an implacable Negro. In certain moments, not many, I can reasonably imagine a tall naked woman standing there beside me with her hand on my butt, saying, Yes I am all his. Sometimes I think about my mother’s panties and where I came from, place to place to place. She was tall and strong and my father was in helicopter technology, a civilian hired by different arms of the service. I was not curious enough to ask much about him and now I realize he might have been interesting although something about my devoted apathy in my teens wouldn’t let me like him. He loved it that helicopters packed the most punch in modern war. He was short, but he stood tall on that fact, and he stood tall in lots of places, Florida, Oregon, Delaware.

My mother would tremble at the window when he was overhead in a helicopter. She was a nervous woman, but tall and strong. Even nervous my mother was stronger than my father. He was freckled with round shoulders but he had fine fingers for his work and in Louisiana he received an award on the tarmac near those tall pines and red dirt. The pines had moss hanging down and I was back in a veil of it pretending I was dead while the helicopters in the air went by pop pop pop packing their punch. Much of what I see reminds me of death but death is interesting, not just sitting there. It is red, green, and blue of dirt, pines, and sky, and it is moving around, my mother being nervous there at the window. Death was like Stalin moving behind the scenes with a mustache killing every other person, Stalin the very man my father opposed, as I gather. Yet he died and they cut the brain out of his head to study.

I had a dream about Stalin in my room looking for his brain. My mother was in the dream, still nervous, she seemed to know where it was. My dead father was sailing around the room showing everybody his lung cancer but laughing at Stalin even though he hardly ever laughed when he was alive. I want to be dead like Netherson, nothing in my eyes, maybe be nothing but black muscle with eyes in it. Minnie would come to me. No more on her knees making extra money listening and agreeing. No more enduring this shame and this slackness and the total indifference of Netherson.

Death, let’s get it on, I say.

Not so fast though.

Here we go again at my table. Look who’s back, the lone wartberry, guy says.

While I’m holding the trays up, the man who looks like me except groomed has not said a word yet, but he has roll crumbs on his mouth and the white sauce of the salad remains in a line across his upper lip. He does not eat well, so impatient he is, while the other goes on.

We are sworn to bring the message home to you, Wartly. We do wish we could see your dreams. Most waiters are waiting until a better thing turns up. But you, Wartly, seem already promoted beyond your talents. This man speaking is courtly, of the world. Even his rich tie looks born for him, his shoes are loving animals gathered to his feet. When I brought him more tea, the meal had not tired him at all. He says, Our old pale old Wartly. Why are you alive? Could it be that anyone would find you necessary? We’ve figured you as a walking breathing missing person but nobody searching for you.

Yes who? The other man, even more like me suddenly, finally spoke. His look lingered on me. I could hardly believe he had spoken. He is moving up in my eyes and shoulders with his expression. He is taking possession, after long patience, in exasperation, is how it feels. I move away from myself into even further nothing, not toward death, not toward Netherson, and I float out the window, past Minnie Hinton still on her knees before her paying customer, always right, the hissing man, him set there in a pout, and I float out into the alley into the hot meat exhaust fan and pavement oil with my arms around the Dumpster, is how it feels.

I could be Fagmost, on the other hand. He is that drunkard always sick under the stands after every ballgame, puking up his guts but smiling. He screams at the team for three solid hours and then you will see him dancing alone in the lowbrow clubs around town. You see him on his hands and knees but making kick motions like a dancer shot down. Then one night two policemen piled into the crowd and dragged Fagmost off, him all wet in his lumpy flower shirt and dirty beard. He never claimed to be nice like everybody around here aspires to. I am nice, I am all right. What a nothing to be said, no? Why, he turned on the television just to get another herd of foreigners to scream at. He fed stray cats is the best thing I know about him. I could be him, but I doubt I have the staying power to be a good drunkard. You see Fagmost trying to eat a hearty meal, the way his lips quiver and he scrapes around at it, this man can move you with his lack of memory and gut persistence. He is smiling, mostly, and you see him back under the stands of the football stadium, puking without a thought of the well-dressed women around him and all the while wearing his smile. My lord if I, say, had a good four-year war behind me and was a hopeless lush carried down the street by a flock of children on Memorial Day, that would be something like Fagmost, that would be Fagmostian, I wouldn’t have to stand for any of this over at that table. Nobody wants to take the time to insult Fagmost, he is so out there.

But I just want to eat candy and drink three sodas with it and fall asleep with a sweat on me watching some women prisoners in slips on the television, wanting to be their guard. I would even wear a slip too just for fun because all women know how to talk. I would like to have a poison ivy rash and have them scratch it for me, all in their slips and their little folkways to cure what ails you.

Or I could be Jimmy with Mr. Beckett in the alley. Jimmy wears a football helmet and Mr. Beckett follows him with a cane. They are inseparable. Jimmy pigeon-toed and hunchbacked. He gimps along slowly looking at the pavement, while Mr. Beckett follows. Then he will strike Jimmy over the helmet with the cane, blap, and there you are their never-ending street playhouse. Jimmy goes into a howling fit to remark on his discomfiture and sends Mr. Beckett down to hell several times. Then Mr. Beckett extends his hand, apologizes. They make up and move on to drink coffee in the town cafe across the street under a marlin on the walls. They are feebleminded but they have structure and design such as discussed in that class at the U I took. Wouldn’t you imagine Mr. Beckett is a god, and Jimmy, looking for cans to cash in, his faithful servant? While I serve and yet never serve anything.

While the two are finishing up their meal I don’t have to look over there. I can feel that one’s eyes are on my back. The clock is hard to watch too the way it is rushing forward and the hands trying to get out like snakes. It is hot on my back and the one at the table is running after me down a gray alley with the air heavy in hot meat exhaust every damned pizza ever consumed like preflatulence of the eating mobs. I’m out of breath just turning around and my bare legs over my boots look like thin milky sticks to run on, they can’t carry on much farther, I should have done more exercise like God intends for real men only I’m in love with my weakness, women in slips could stand and lie all around me licking my disease, they go for weak men you know, oh yes they love nothing better than a bad poet who needs all kind of help and understanding even to finish out a new poem about self-abuse. The man handles me somehow, yes his fingers go around my neck become snakes off the clock, next the way he steps into me with his knees behind my knees, paralyzing me to make me buckle like somebody collapsed in love. He is like smoke and he wears me like a suit or maybe just underwear.

My mother, the strong one, taller than both my father and me, she was always at the window nervous, looking out at the flatness of the airfields where my father worked. She said she wondered why we needed to go to the moon, we already lived on it, we had lived on many moons, one moonscape to the next. They are making my mind flat, she said, and she never complained much. My tits are going flat, my breast does not swell, no heart in it I can see out there honestly try as I might, then try to love again in another place, wherever God has furnished another pool table for their little games. You can’t just peer out to the flats forever. I can’t love again, I can’t. You will have to make do with some younger gypsy with huge breasts. Even in her depression my mother was strong, you see. But she pitied me and all the ones over the world who were never quite dead but little else. That is the trouble with everything, she said, new people are not quite loved like I can’t quite love you or your father. On the streets in the airports in the churches in the stores they are not quite loved. You can see it in almost everybody’s eyes. They are paying for somebody to love them, they are trying to make up somebody who loves them, but everybody’s soul is stretched out flat, we just are things to sit something on like airfields. There are too many places too many pictures. Nobody can get to them except crazy people like my own father your granddaddy. He was crazy but he taught me to love and be loved.

My father, I just remembered. He was working on a strange gas with a space name to power a weapon that in a single helicopter you had the gunforce to level a block in Manhattan at midnight in a storm. He worked always deep into the night even at home and he loved those Winston cigarettes. When he was diagnosed with lung cancer his doctor suggested he sue the government because that space gas had a direct bearing and he the doctor would testify so. But see this, my father was a patriot as well as a small genus and he could not in good heart as he put it, and with cancerous lungs as he could have, sue his own government even if it would provide millions and Harvard for me and a palace in the mountains for my mother although my mother always said she just wanted one small Ozark to live on at last, she was from Arkansas and that’s all she dreamed of, just the one little mountain. So he just blamed the Winstons alone and nobody knew of the other until his partner later died too with tumors like fists in his head and lungs and liver.

The very next day after my father was diagnosed, I mean the next day after that ceremony on the tarmac, helicopters saluting him from overhead in a squadron, I watched where he got the award. In Louisiana. The moss hung from the limbs of the pines and the sun up like bright hell, the sky just stupid and blue, a skinny squirrel running behind the grandstand over the tarmac like some rat making a protest, all that pavement and bop bop bopping metal sound overhead. Before he began crying and getting smaller, he said, Yes, there are too many. God bless war otherwise the pestilential hordes reaching up to level us. There you’d really have your flat plains. You can never trust an armed corporal, boys and girls, something’s different there no matter what you read. Trust this, history will always create a monster to harvest the millions. We should worship the helicopter, boy, god of our times, Hitler Stalin Mao, Hussein, all of them corporals. There is not even such a thing as a personal soul in many countries. The souls were dead already waiting for Marx, all he was was the final announcement. I am dying for you, I have had hell so you may carry on. Love me, every breathing motherfucker around me. I give you my lungs and heart to eat thereof. I taste like a sword.

When I turn to take the bill over, the man who looks just like me is standing right in my face. His meal is all in his breath.

Isn’t it time we met? he asks. Please take off that apron.






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In Memory of Barry Hannah, by David McLendon






Walk with me. Walk with me through this. Through all of this. I want you to know. I want you to know everything. I want you to know everything I know. Listen. Please listen. Please pay attention. Do you know what I know? Let me tell you what I know. It’s simple. It’s complicated. I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything about anything. It’s hard to imagine. It’s hard to explain. How a person can walk through the world as long as I’ve walked through the world and know absolutely fucking nothing about anything. How a person can walk through the world as long as I’ve walked through the world and know absolutely fucking nothing about the world. Are you with me in this? Be with me in this. There’s no need to explain. There’s never a need to explain. Walk with me now. Let me follow you through it. 


A decade ago today Barry Hannah left the world.

A decade ago today I was in Puerto Rico when I heard the news of Hannah’s passing via a series of exchanges with my dear pal Brian Kubarycz:

BK: He’s gone.

DM: Who?

(Radio silence)

DM: Who?

(Radio silence)

DM: Who?

(Radio silence)

BK: I’m not sure I can bring myself to say it.

DM: Just say it.

(Radio silence)

(Radio silence)

(Radio silence)

BK: Captain Maximus

(Radio silence)



The evening before I arrived in Puerto Rico, I packed five books for the nine day trip:

Airships, by Barry Hannah

Captain Maximus, by Barry Hannah

High Lonesome, by Barry Hannah

Wittgenstein’s Nephew, by Thomas Bernhard

Plainwater, by Anne Carson

NOTE: Immediately dismiss any irony (or even coincidence) regarding the books I chose for my trip. I had been in contact with Grove Atlantic for months, soliciting the house for a short story by Hannah to be published in Unsaid. That I took three titles by Hannah on my trip reflects only my love of his pages and the excitement I felt in regards to the prospect of publishing a story by him in Unsaid.



In the stead of knowing anything about the world, I feel the world.

In the stead of knowing anything about the world, I feel the world and distill what I feel with a necessary form of attention.

In the stead of knowing anything about the world, I feel the world and distill what I feel with a necessary form of attention, thereby creating a world inside the world.



A short walk. Let’s carry this walk a stretch farther. Or, in this case, a step further.

Today as I was walking around Ann Arbor, thinking about Hannah, thinking about his pages and what his pages mean to me, I thought of you, how I wanted you beside me. You being whomever you are. If you are reading this and paying attention and feeling this, you are the person I wanted at my side. This is to say that as I walked through a dirty but not unbearable alleyway in Ann Arbor, I was feeling what I felt and paying attention the way I pay attention when I noticed a sort of world at my feet. A crack in the cement. Two stones. Water in the crack. And a film of something atop the water. The film was what first caught my attention. Beautiful and gossamer and kind of fucked up. I stopped and gave it my attention. Then I shot a photograph of it. It’s the image at the head of this post. It conveyed to me all I was seeking. My sadness for Hannah’s death. My gratitude that his sentences remain in the world. I entitled the photograph, “A Sentence by Barry Hannah.”

I know nothing. I feel everything. And I pay attention. I feel everything and I pay attention. It’s a way to create a world. A world inside the world. That’s all I hold. That’s all I know. Thank you for listening. Thank you for walking with me. Now you know everything. Know you are loved.



“Whosoever you are, be that person with all your might. Time goes by faster than we thought. It is a thief so quiet. You must let yourself be loved and you must love, parts of you that never loved must open and love. You must announce yourself in all particulars so you can have yourself.”

– Barry Hannah –
















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Coming Forth!


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What Never Came Across – Ottessa Moshfegh (from Unsaid One)



Why don’t I spare you and cut to where I cash in on my upbringing. My sister, in the attic, lit fires on towels drenched in shampoo. My brother just back-packed the gasoline around the kitchen, then later, smarter, eye-dropped spots onto corners of pillows, collars, scarves, face-cloths, etc. My mother, to start, had little soot-colored mice in glass cases on the porch that she either found frozen or pink and pulsing in the mornings. Coming in during breakfast with her hands full of them– my brother tainting the milk with gas, sister burning supermarket coupons– my mother would say a little grace whatever the case was, dead or new-born. I suppose, at this point, on top of all this, what seems all so unnecessary so soon in my telling, is that no one cares if I say that I know how to deafen things.

Something about my mother made her want every room the same. The house was a double-decker, all medium-blue wallpapered. The kitchen was big without windows. All the floors had the same small-nubbed plain gray carpet. My mother got all the furniture on lay-away. We all had the same furniture—same bed, armoire, desk, chair, stand-up closet. It was all a fancy lacquered wood—hotel wood. Unlike the rest of us, my brother kept his wood waxed and used the reflection to look down his throat to see, if at all, where the gas was stewing. When she was strong, our mother said, prove what you want to prove. Other times, never mind the rest of them, she told my brother, I like your smell.

My mother wore nightgowns like every other woman. She must have resembled something you’ve been cradled by. And if you’ve lived in a house without a sidewalk, if your house doesn’t have a front yard or a little gate and a bit of grass or a step up to the house, if your house has none of these things and it doesn’t even have a sidewalk, if when you open your front door you are stepping off the curb, you are backing up against the house’s wall, holding yourself in against the traffic, mornings, shimmying along, rush-hours, sucking in, if that was the kind of house you walked out of whenever you were going somewhere, then we have something else in common. What we must have in common are the days I left the house to play, no matter how cold it was, and walked through the leaves, and passed hours whistling through neighbors’ yards, scouting out a dog to deafen, under the sun and clouds, through wind and rain. We must at least have weather in common. Tell me you know where I’m coming from.

To be more exact, the carpet was better called a rug, and it was covered in dog hair and wig hair and bits of food and spilled things and pins and needles and things, shreds of papers that used to be bills, maybe, wood shavings, mouse droppings, streams and steams of gasoline. This isn’t to say I was the one following them around with a pan and a broom or even a pail of water. I may have opened some windows in the living room. My mother pointed to the messes, things got addressed. My mother wasn’t that far off from a mom. Everything we did she was the beginning of, the way it was supposed to be.

The first time I wrapped my hands around the neck of a small dog and pushed my fingers into its ears, it made me late for dinner. At home, my mother set the plate down in front of me. I was usually early for dinners, always hungry– I was and am a fat child, so to speak. After it stopped spinning, spinning and spinning, she put a barely eyeballed mouse down and covered it with a plastic cup. The blind, deaf and dumb baby mouse is worth repeating. Most likely she had the sense that what I had stolen from her hotel wooden bedside table had contributed to something. I had fed the dog her pills to get it to hush up. Then I had pushed my fingers into the dog. I can be plain when it comes to hushing.

By the time my brother got to everybody’s beds, we made do without mattresses. He got the smell into anything that would take it—the curtains, cushions, seat-covers, doilies, lint-balls in the laundry room. After fabrics he went for the dirt in the plant pots. Liquids were a given. He drank a good deal of gas. He got me to drink it. I will tell you that as a replacement for certain things, it made wonders.

As for my sister, she kept to her own. I’m exaggerating when I say gasoline and when I say fire. I’m not setting this up for anything. My sister just happened to burn heaps of things and useless things. When there was a heap of something useless, she burned it. Leaves, garbage, year-old dirty laundry. In the house, because of all its sameness, you didn’t see the smoke as much. My sister was the one to find the vacuum once in a while. I remember watching her get a knife and cut the hair out of it after it had filled the house with the new smell of burning plastic. After we left for school, our mother slept. The mail came, the sun passed through the windows, her little mice did their business, some died. Outside, whether it was warm or cold, someone was writing her a check in our favor. Once a week we all got in the car and went to the bank and then to the grocery store. Our brother, at the gas station, got his fill.

When I say I know how to deafen things, and I admit things about the dogs, I am just trying to get across to you what never came across. That is the entire purpose of this. I’m just mentioning these things quickly so far because I don’t want to seem full of myself. I am well aware that nobody would want to know about my mother if it didn’t, in some way, get something across. I’m only hoping that when I say, our mother, because the locks were broken in the car, sat in it while we did the shopping, you aren’t just nodding your head along. She spoke in a way that, to me, hardly differed from the sentences in the life science textbooks she put on the bookshelves. When she was still talking to me, she told me about anvils, hammers, drums, all the connections. I deafened her in about thirteen years. By the time I had lived that long, I would mouth words at her, she would squint, shake her head, turn away. She used to have an expression: “sitting on your ears.” It meant you weren’t listening. A couple of times I tried to sit on my ears. She helped me, pressing down on my legs, holding my neck steady. I would have been successful, had I been just a bit less fat. I deafened her while she was sleeping, very carefully, with long needles. I sanded the needles down with sandpaper so that they were as thin as three hairs put together, a tiny strand, like just a little wisp of hair, practically invisible, painless. What I made of them were just little pricks, two or three pricks at a time, every few hours, from where I curled up with her on the hotel bed frame. She slept through most sounds anyway, and, when she made noises, they sounded read-aloud. When she was drawing pictures of things that looked like rivers and dams and islands inside a head called ME, I knew what she was asking for. I picked things off the floor. I sanded them down.

In defense of my mother, from what we see of her in pictures, she spent most of her life in motel pools losing her hair to the men who braided us out of it. I was the first out, poked a little too roughly by the doctors, my mother has told me, because it was a cheap hospital, a hotel hospital, in the country, with cows around it, and dung and flies around the dung and a hot, dung-smelling noise around it all. She has told me that, because of her having to rest up around the buzzing noise of the dung, she argued with certain people to leave and all too soon got out of bed, went and got me and took the car and drove away. To put it in her words, the sound of bug on dung was all too much of a reminder of how things breed out of what she holds her nose over. She went into the room where the man was holding me, showing me to some other women. They made angry faces, threw their arms up, rushed at her. That’s when, she says, she knew I could be trusted. I got my gums on what must have been the arm of the man who fathered me. He waved me around and passed me to the women. I thrashed them. I gummed them too. They passed me back to my mother.
In the car, she told me there was a difference between people. Some people hear a baby cry and perk up their ears, their backs straighten. Those people hear a baby cry and their minds walk out of the room, their ears are listening apart from themselves, traveling through the house. Some other people, fewer people, hear the baby and say to themselves, oh, isn’t that a baby, oh, there, it’s a baby, hmmm, and they begin to wonder, rubbing their hands together, planning things, lowering their heads. She told me she carried me as long as she could stand it. When she made her apology, I knew she was asking for something. I kept my mouth on her, wherever I could get to, on the road, pressed up against the steering wheel. By the time we got to where we were going, I could walk on my own.

If people are going to sit still and maybe, for just a second, consider that maybe, just because I’m a very small, fat-loaded person, I’ve got something coming to me, then let it be this: I want a puppy the size of a pill. Or make it a pill-sized big yapping grown dog slathered in mud. Whatever brand of dog, make it small, swallowable. The kind of dog-pill I want is the easy, small, chalky-sized one. I could never get my throat around those long, maraca-type pills. Make it child-vitamin-sized, crushable-sized. Make it any kind of dog. I would settle for one of those shaky, old, old-persons’ dogs, with white hair with the skin seeable, with the crackable legs, the small black nose. Just make it small. Make it a pill. I’m asking for one of those. If you can get a person out of another person, if you can pull a nearly full-grown person out of another full-grown person the way I was pulled out of my mother, tell me you can’t find me a dog I can keep on the tip of my tongue, swarvle around, feed for weeks on what I pick out of my teeth. Show me a dog that size and I’ll show you what I did to that dog when I put my fingers into it, but you’ll have to spare your neck. This is a threat. I’m saying, give me what I want and I’ll kill you. That’s always the pay-off. This was the part where I get to sound-off on my misfortunes, where I threaten what is too far away for me to wrap my hands around. In other words, I’m talking to you.
Our furniture, if you were talking to my brother, was classy. I don’t know where he got his jauntiness, flicking my ears the way he did. He was the only one to point out the obvious about us. When there was ever any music on, he got serious and cleared a space for dancing. The dance he did was a shoulder dance, side to side, very stretchy, clapping his hands, shuffling his feet in little triangles. He wore a lot of cologne to cover himself up when he left the house. He had been spoiled. He didn’t like the mice. My mother started keeping a running tally on a blackboard in the kitchen. He got better at copying her number-writing. What he was doing, what I think he was doing, was dropping them in the tub when he gave himself gas-baths, he called them. It was mostly water with a layer of gas on top. Otherwise he was good-looking. He had very certain, dark green eyes. His skin was rainbowed because of the film of gas on it. His voice was something you never noticed because what it was always saying was, “However, whichever, anyhow, whatever, any way you want.” If his canister got filled on the visit to the station on a shopping day, he agreed with most things.

That’s it for my brother. He drank it, he swung it around, and, finally, he filled the glass cases of mice with it. My mother had to start again. I had kept the cupped mouse from that dinner in a little jar in my armoire. It lay around on its back. My mother knew about it.

To know what I look like, go back and rustle up a baby picture. Imagine the baby blown up a bit—enlarged. Dim the eyes a little, put some teeth in it, some scarring in, some signs of having swum through more than water, put some rolls in the fat, crinkle it up a bit, roughen up the skin, get some calluses on the fingers and toes, age it. I’m twenty-seven years old.

I have this job. My official title at the school is “assistant janitor,” meaning I pick things off the floor and then I wipe the floor down with wax. Put me in a blue jumpsuit, label me “Dung,” and I’m good to go. The advantages of the job are that I steal things from the bottom-level cubbies and bring wax home for my brother, as a reminder of things passed. There are other advantages.

One is that I’ve just told you a lie. I’ve been unemployed—unemployable—for five years. I collect unemployment.

That is a lie too. I live in a home for retarded people. Lie. I am a real estate agent, I am a skin doctor, I am a fire-fighter, a blond, a historian, a basketball player, a termite, a sous-chef, taxi-driver, French native, computer-fixer, father, girl, old fart, seamstress, actor, bigot, tramp. You could squash me bare-footed. I like to tell the truth when it comes to touching. If I had to do it all over again, I’d be an animal surgeon.

Even though I am recognized by the state as a certain something, I am in custody of quite a bit of cash. When I ask for loans, people see my cheeks, maybe they want to squeeze them. They marvel at my abilities of expression. What my mother taught me was how to turn on the charm. When she put on the rouge, she was a stunning woman. She chose the thoughtful, creased-pantsed men, the freshly shaven men with the smell of an unfresh home, something unused but gone bad, wasted but looking good. She said the sounds of them were niceties, honest, of the breast. She said the noises of their fingers were laid straight, not like the in-the-pocket swarmings of the sweat-chested, gargoyled creatures who drip at the mouths, she told me. I remember her words because they put words into me. It helped being a baby forever. She was always teaching me how to talk.

The truth of it: I’m getting smarter by the second. I surpass the lot of them. I stomp on the hearts of those who try to cradle me. “Goo goo ga ga,” I tell them, and scratch at their faces. They wondered at my mother in the mall with the double-sized stroller. “What a big baby,” they said.

“Yes, yes,” I answered.

My mother, had she not decided to do more than imagine taking a wide step out our front door one night, would most likely point to the clock and hush me and my arrogance. I’m sour. I smell. My brother lives one room over and he cleans up after me now when I spit up, when I wet, when I splatter something in my high chair. I have so many thanks to give. When I moon cars from my window, I know that the ass they are looking at is someone who deafens dogs for sport. I only mention the dogs to make it hard for you to ignore me. If you listen, you will agree that it is better to see the thing coming for you rather than to hear it screeching.

My sister wouldn’t forgive me for deafening my mother and ordered a hearing aid. My mother agreed to wear it. She told me, in so many words, that what she was listening to all those years without the hearing aid were just the sounds of the mistakes inside her body—breaths, a ticking-off somewhere, crackling joints. When she got hit by the car, there was no sidewalk to leave her on, there was no place to set her down, to leave her, napping there, no note to tuck under her, nothing but to drive around her, set off a flare, to watch out. But in her nightgown, what used to be the noiseless rumbles of traffic were now the sounds of angels flying, whizzing, blearing past, hushing upon her, flowing by, a joy to behold. And we, brother, sister and I beheld it in our breaths, leaning against the walls of the home, holding something up there.

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Bagatelles and Bell’s Exit : Russell Persson




So as not to muck the sleep of his grandchildren he went to the front porch to use his cigar outside and stood there as such in night, the new quiet still unsure to settle, low dust in eddies few streetlamps are on again who put tents of light down on the. He listened to the night sounds, the bugs and whine the fucking called to in serial peeps and ticks. The ticks a period among the longer peeps drawn out as a sentence in fond repeat. Could we get by with just a sound and none other? His smoke of him goes up and off and thins into what could be silence. We thin us like this and to our kin we gather what we can and set it there for them to be with it to be with us as an ashen gray figure drawn on linen I could have it either way I could note and in so doing my notes go ahead of me as a new present. Each night is a new bafflement I strain to harbor any sense of it so the unorder of a far truck is the undernote to the tin pot hit up against an evening sink. This is him in night his smoke guylined to the weather he’s under.

From his house a voice who comes up into a loudness and heavy bootsteps come from the kitchen and come to him through the parlor and as the bootsteps near him a child on an upper floor begins a jag and nearer now the bootsteps come to the front door where he puts his cigar away from him and exhales to send out from him another evening cloud who thins and but for the chaotic winds even low as they are tonight fend his cloud into a spreaded banner frayed into a gone threadedness and in its dissolve an added note for what maps it ends up fallen into, mixed into the endless and next, his glowed tobacco held now in front of him as if his hand was in a greeting to the night and behind him the coming bootsteps and then it is an open door his own door swung in so that a latch undone is a pluck to enact the drawn tones of a dry hinge, an opening as a whip begins the high ringing who follows it and coming through the opened door with his boots and with his anxious eyes and with his olive drab and patches who recommend him and corral him and put his name upon himself and in his hand which is also held out in front of him as if in a greeting is the pistol, the man he comes outside in such a rush he comes into the ember of the cigar who swung around to see him and lit edges of it fall down and taking the man outside for a sudden threat he tightens his pistol hand and conducts the final few notes of the man who was outside now rubbed out in night the tether now cut for good who ran down from above.



An olive egg. Embryo he’s.

He’d gone into the entrapment as a cook a lark his sergeant enlisted him in. But any break in the formal he’d become unguided and so it was on the porch in night an ember toward him was an unknown and he saved himself against it.

Debriefed the cook was told he ended what was then the life of one composer the peers of whom were few and them well upheld.

The cook was gathered in then. His body smallened by the sadness he’d took. He wept in long stretches in Mittersill and wrapped hi sarms around himself in a try to push his littled egg back to the past when he hadn’t yet put his kill in. Back into the foetusy bag he wraps him up to go beyond a mourning he’s unaware of until it deepens again and then again again.



He’s finded out who he’s offed. He’s akin to what’s done. The cook in drab has shut the life of one man in night the man a man who put down a score in compose, a man whose music he brought to into for that his notes could in their own fucked way convince an ear of how true the notes were.

Drab cook and so tied up in his own ferals he comes to try to shut himself of what he’s done. Wrapped into himself is what only one body could come to his own possible, isn’t it?

An olive drab cook his name is Raymond Bell his sentence is his own handed down a self no more jacketed to so weather what’s been doled he’s decided what he’s done is as beyond the criminal as a man could do at all and so reft he’ll keep on without hinge and without feck he’s cotted in the bunks ad hocced inside the saved end of a monastery he’s cotted there and to the limestone walls he’s any man but himself up to the walls he’s in compare a deather-man who deals in end days who rides the shoulders of well men into the fields of war and aliates his death cards to whomever, wind is what could end up spreading them and Bell he’s I and I do come to ride up on the shoulders of well men and I do come to cross out the coming days you believed you had and sack them into the neatness I’ve beheld and to the slate I’ve cut to clean it come and look at how I’ve in ease I’ve been the he who graced away your true upcoming I’ve been the one to cause an inhale when our opposite was in ask and borrowed from an ancient I could recite your ode but instead our lifted arms to you recite another knotted tome so gather and shamble in to this and then we’ve been turned out to listen and as such we’ll follow the tracks of our elders and envision what they might have beheld as a coal stove lit by these eyes alone could encause what ends are nearest and shamble in to this to lay quiet and subdue your all and allow just the sounds of wind and mussed foliage to back what I tell you of the days unlived you were verged on and those who would have followed you into the noted bog you made for them and your eldest how she stood out and brought down to her own palm the light of one star and spread that without an aim to be repaid or owed what all but in kind she gave to those who most could need it and they took the burned light and scarred wnet all into the upward and of thie days who rain could stay you inside and there with the heaven sands you’d hear the splitting of the air before the deepness who followed and as a seer is taken over by the body who speaks through him so you would commit this sound to sheets the paper staffed and soon endotted with your ear’s séance upon it I am the remover of those days and I am the one who blots out for good what will not be.

And sitted he’ll be carted soon to some room away from them. He’ll lean himself in rocking and to mutter hwo he’s an ebon agent of all men and how his initial opus is for the ages.



Shipped home for his fondness there was only room in the ship’s brig for him and so he locked up was under way his belted coat who kept his arms abuckle. There was no food this cook would allow in him and in his best dwindle when it seemed there could be no end to the crossing of the sea and there was no weather or sky to split up the days into the bits but only when the brig officer turned out his desk lamp in night was it able to lay guesses as to when it was this dwindle of his arm and of what sense was still left of him when a shift went across him inside and he could tell the legs of this ship were in cold dangle and each leg became ice and broke off below and left him to not know what aim was had at all but to drift and to try to picture for himself what no land in sight would look as.



Mount Olive

He’s gotten back to his rooms. This is where his wife is is and his young son. His gaze does not lift up above the shoulders of them. His coming home is gathered small, some others he’d known before he left to go to war. When they leave and he is now home with his child son and with his wife he finds himself among the same chairs and side tables and the same smell and the rug who holds on to a foot print like beach sand. The quiet and the arms of his young wife and the eyes of his son he builded into the safe bay he’d imagined could be the road out of where he’d kept on.

Outside a cicada went through his gradual incline to an almost electric hum and others joined him in this mad bug lunacy. It was a lunacy he’d known all along and home again it gret him in the first night and kept him awake against the rest he needed and against the long his young wife held for him. But his awayness was steady and did not ebb although he was now home but his deathing over there was a coat he could not put off. The cicada hums went on into the dusk in a way he’d known when he was young a way to tell how hot and wet it was outside and how slow a body should become inside the day to not become bothered by the day and it is a white noise a southern ear would tune into and along with the sound of them it is the summers who come back to mind and the good hours before night when a pond was swum or when a road into the town was thumbed in and then in summer it was the evening hours when a string who held a light dress on a shoulder was sided away and the untanned eyed you as a line who was off limits but until now and still a man shuttled back to his home in Carolina the loose events he’s done untold as yet for it is to him a homecoming unfinished in its entrance and unfinished in its tell of why he’s back from where he occupied but until then he makes of the cicadas and falls into this bed alone among his wife and they swim there as several ponds enflood about them.

The morning is a time when it is fit to renew and to cast a self into the coming open and to shed the what before but instead the open for all its emptiness is terrible for what it needs and he can not amount to another’s needs no matter the setting or the when. His awayness. Carried like a loaded sledge is pulled across the rotted floors of wood land. His awayness as a gift offered back to the giver.

The zinnias have come up. Your mother has been over to help with them. Her green fingers I swear.

His answer is an abstract. A sketch who plies ended trade into an exchange of a dwarf utter and truncate notes.


Before it’s known to him he’s assembled a routine and his body walks in step to the guide stones laid out there for him to follow. In days he tinkers in a shop held to for just a pursuit and his young son comes with him some days to watch a man tinker on small engines and motors. His son watches close and the quiet class he’s in is what does hold fast into the days beyond these.

Raymond Bell sits himself in dusk. His ritual continuing. He puts his whiskey in him. And sits outside among an air he’s on about. Coming around him an air in night who sheds a day and a field smell of how it’s fed and kept alive is abundant and near him the zinnias live in open call to the hues God bestowed on them we all come hued by an eyed God who sets us out there among the leopards and ants and it’s for us to decide who we could suck to get by for an early on. The whiskey in him bends his eye slanting enough to go unguided across his hand and back.



He went in thick and without wait. A habit picked up over there wherein wine sat in with dinner and whiskey was brought out to follow. His regret is endless and in his cups it becomes a tangle of more to it added. The fiction of it gathers in him and he hauls it with him and forth when an ear would have it.

His days are doldrums strung together along a valley floor. In night his drink puts a clearing out for him to roam in and then in deeper still he’s fallen along with his drink into the room where all his voices are kept and it’s there he’s found in night to mix with them and fend and to rebut again what they’ve posed in endless chorus about the ruin he’s done and those acts he can’t undo to fend on all points from them all assembled to post about him all cases against. It is pinned on him he’s host to the voices pinned and left there for the others. An added drink and he’s on point again to ward them and not until the drink’s enough to end his up it’s then he’ll camp where God has chosen for him to rest and it could be outside or it could be on a tile floor in a sideways sitting pose his wife’ll find him in tomorrow.


Waked he spends an off day in research. The Second Viennese School. Tonal scales. Brief bagatelles who disarm an ear.

He copies out the notes who mean to him few sounds but he’s sure to fill in the black ovals and leave the open ones open.

With is son in dusk they sit on the back steps of home and crickets. With two fingers he shows his son the movements of the legs of a cricket and the sound who brings itself from this and even so it seems unlikely.


Leicht bewegt

Tip teetering up his stoop it comes they come with it wrapped and it has a man on every corner and in time they dip down and the whole body of it sways tilting backward and they correct this and steady what they bring into the house and go slowly through the middle of the front door who’s held open with a boot this shuffle of them slow and meaty like a men’s team trying quiet for a spell and almost winning at it but for the grunts they do because a body does what it has always done and so the bag of tricks is endless in its own making so the men come up with gutters and steam engine exhales each a corner man who lobbies his angle to the men to see if it’ll carry so they shuffle loudly to the hall where on the walls a picture of a new recruit hangs who then was ready to do battle with a drawn foe and set to bring his violence into the day he sees himself then as new to war and what a tyke he was to the actual script who was in store for him all written in the dark gothic hand of the old world arranger his ignorance a blessing then and coming through the hall now the men decline rest but shuffle on up to the gates of where they intend and it’s shrunken down the width in which they get to pass with this and the shrunken door is eyed for wideness so the men on every corner shift themselves to cause a better thinness among them and they sidle through into the guest room with the school piano who needs to be held in place and sat up next to and tuned by a kind of listener who would know the way to tune such crudities as this one got for no money and the men lended by a church who looks down upon vets with a kindness and they install as far as they know how to do this school piano in a room who wants some room already the leveling of which is beyond them all and so it sits with a wooden shim below the southeast leg and stares him down as much as a thing has done before.


Ziemlich fliessend

The woman who lends books she also vends how to play these keys and signed up he ends days with her in his school piano room.

She keeps me from solely having at the wine alone. That touch is just enough to convince me I’ve been delegating.

They study scales and how a hand rises to the keys and posture. The dusk it reddens them and he studies and is quick to get down the new lesson and head into the next.

She leaves and he continues but it’s now he brings out his transcriptions and puts himself to note by the next buckwheat note cause in his room the versions he’s copied over. In night he tops himself off with the whiskey he’s kept home and as if reading the sounds of a language unknown to him he taps what he sees and it could not be so. There must be more time spent in learning it seems. There must be some shift he’s not seeing on how to bring these written notes into a room as they were intended.

He presents his transcriptions to his tutor and she causes them. They are in the air inside the school piano room and with them disbelief. She causes them again to be sure.

None of us has, she says.

Less than a minute some notes who tend to something other than a tune it’s up to wonder what at all he’s up to if the transcriptions are aligned and true.

You must have had them wrong.


Sehr langsam

He’s sure that he’s sure of his notes. Alone he causes them into the room and they have an awkward dance a halting rise and then sudden plucks to tell us what? It is a knocking to come in or is it a bird in dusk or just a finger in the passing of an idle when? He causes them again in their written briefnesses. He touches them into the school piano room and in there the notes place themselves around him in a shifting fug they all roam and fidget and can not wear his trust and so they feint and ebb and at once against the roof and on the floor and once upon him to best govern his hands and weigh his versions.

He’s fled into the hallway it is dark and in the kitchen his wife has left on for him a lamp he needs and his son is sleeping and his wife is. So as not to disturb them he puts no ice in his glass but instead a straight whiskey and small water and to keep his trips few he doubles and more his cup and swigs there in the kitchen a deep pull so as not to disturb them. He goes back into his room and sits again with his copied notes.

They are there still but now hiding but now waiting for him to enact them back to where they can dance and fuck him around. He plays on and touches them back to.

He pulls deep on his whiskey and an exhaust comes over him but there is no one to spell him. He plays on into the morning these odds he’s sure of and he’s sure he has them down.

But even the ending notes don’t have the body of an ending. It is the middle of a chat who gets cut off. An open door who blows a small wind through. Like an unfinish. And in this his body chills to know what has been unfinished and what his role about that is.

He pulls deep on his whiskey and there is only the keys who remain and look back to him and they do this in the dawn. There is no way to know his path out of that room and to the low chair he sleeps in. The lamp he no longer needs. The good dreams who could have a say in his forgiveness he’s too lit to read well and they go lost to him.


Auberst langsam

I shot him in a moment when his ember turned and met me swung up to me in its ember color in the night an ember who it seemed was up against me in a violent who would have done me in we could have been surrounded and the son in law Mattel had posted at the doors a thug each who would handle us if it all went sour and for Mattel it did go that way and on my guard and through his house with my warlong nerves who all went frayed from what a man endures in it and with my sidearm rady and with my order to return with more men to escort Mattel to the brig we had set up in what was a town bank I came to the door and drew it in to go outside and thugs were of a possible then and I stirred of it so when the dark coat swung around and brought an ember round and to me it was unknown to me it was as far beyond me as it could have been that he stood there in night to seek quiet and to enter into that room who held for him those deep tricks and where he kept those notes who went ahead of him and led him to that plucking and to the spaces in between the notes who grew into sounds themselves for all the space they builded and to the notes who felt as if they tumbled down the steps and fell out on the path to rise again stumbled off without notice or word to where it was they set off to and just before they went away into the darkness you could tell they faltered in a slant in odd routes so they led him in the room he went who held silence only altered by his own device his own adding to the dance he must have held inside him to the room who sketched him his country in which the entire of it was of his sole direction it was here he must have brought himself to in night when the sounds of the city went away to remain him with the rest of it in a study of how the rest of it fit together and the divine could assemble it but instead he swept it all up for his self to build and men go to the dirt without a country to them and without a dance at all and swung around to me was just an ember who came around his dark coat and embered there and still as if I could one day unsee this I still and tear this out please tear it out from me the wire glasses and his eyes.



Mountain Olive. Wayne County. Maplewood. Valley, Crest, and Kornegay.

Pete’s Spa. Before he shuts it down. A pocket jar to walk with.

Life a borrowed better list.

Center and Main. To look but it’s then forever crickets and the sound they rub to me. Rexall’s.

September fifteen. Do celebrate me and what I’ve done. The jar is up and we Prost! Let’s off.

East Main, East John. The flatness of us. Why can’t these train tracks just sit and mean the tracks they are? I won’t fall into that. They go on off from here.

Maplewood in night is not much. Again just what they are, marble set on end and a name cut into the sides. Dates and a dash. The hollow of that dash there, all what goes between the left date and the next.

So let’s dwell on what. Some jar it was who gave it up so early. Riddance. As an altar to you, too dark to see who you it is.

Bees in bonnets. Bustle. A quick walk back into town. Skirting the son and wife. May darkness become what it must and do it soon. What pub’ll set me up tonight. I’ll pledge to the town I won’t bring it up.

Good Mike. Whiskey and an ale back. I keep it to myself.

And what’ll become of what I wander to. She doesn’t know about the ones I’ve hidden in the arbor. Sit back to me there to mend about the way I get back to my piano and cause into this night what I’m sure of.

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PAMELA RYDER Paradise Field

Let’s not futz around.  I’m old, a Jew, a man who, but for the fates in charge of the trivialities, might have been Ryder’s father.  Well, for all that, I am Ryder’s father or, anyhow, a father of Ryder and will, accordingly, go agreeably to my grave praising her name as if my doing so might work for my daughter the favor of the gods.  Let me tell you—in the matter of my thinking what must be said when an occasion such as this has come to take me by the heart:  it was with tears in my eyes that I made my way through the pages recording Ryder’s mission to bury her dead in a manner unique among the methods practiced by humankind.  Her art is water for the thirsty, sustenance for the deprived.  I ask you, which of us is not perishing from the logic of the insufficiency woven into the world’s conceivable answer to our unappeasable cries?  Ryder, her soul, her sentences, they are one thing, and this totality is given as an exception—the valedictory gesture of a mensch, this Pamela Ryder, enacting her livelong promise via the ceremonies of Paradise Field.  Listen to me—my daughter brings comfort, brings balm, brings the exhilaration of loving and kinship to al those who would, by words, be cured.
–Gordon Lish–
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