I hear you behind me. 3- 2- 1.
You predictable scourge. You wildebeest.
How could anyone not?
Your legs thundering like giant denim buffaloes.
Shaking my cubicle walls. My Jesus.
A stone-faced Vasili Arkhipov. USSR.
My black-and-white Picasso
whipping like a mud flap in your wake.
I feel your parasitic eyes peering,
sticking to my back, crawling
over my neck. Lurking. Looking
at my screen hoping to see something
to report to them. You good citizen.
You gold star autism poster-child in
special sweatpants with your blue ribbon
and squeaky tennis shoes.
I fooled you, you bison.
There's not a damn thing for your fat sideways
eyes to see besides words,
pixilated ink that you, even with
your constant eyes on me, cannot possibly
read from your incessant passes to
the water trough and back again.
Your goddamn "bladder problem"
I've heard about for a thousand years,
surely, some grotesque STD
from some ghetto-trash hookup.
I wrote this about you, you mammoth.
You beast. Shave your beard. Stop showering
yourself in cheap body spritz. No one cares
that you Uber in the evenings, or about your
goddamn diets that always fail, obviously,
or your fucking wiener dog.
And fuck your Yoga and your wine tastings
and your parents in Michigan and your
cuck boyfriend and your San Diego timeshare.
Move cubicles or else. Request a transfer to
where it might be that you are wanted.
Not over here in the Badlands. Over there
in the housing projects. In the ghetto
where everyone is loud and nosey.
A block party with the ripple and the goose.
Not behind me looking over my shoulder
like the goddamn SS, jackboots to match.
You ANTIFA hairy cunt. I don't wear your gold star.
I'm not your goddamn Jew boy
to be dragged into a supervisor's inquiry
so to exalt your due diligence.
Your social holocaust is not to be waged against
me and my freedoms. You walking menstruation.
You case for adult abortion.
I know you. I know your shit schedule.
When you eat. What you eat.
When you come in late and when you leave early.
I know your unauthorized calls and copies.
I know you shop online on paydays and hack on Mondays
which fills me with horrific thoughts of
what you do on Sundays to that hole
of a mouth and that bacteria-laden black cock cave.
I won't miss you when I'm gone.
But I'll never forget the reverberation
you made, you hungry, hungry, hippo.
Nor the disgusting sound of your sneeze.
Blowing that baked-potato nose.
Your snot orgasms. You pan-gender, mentally-ill, curd.
A herd of yourself, you Inspector Gadget.
You retarded warped Nancy Drew.
You fur-burger eating carpet troll.
No. Pets are not like kids. And you
do not resemble Demi Moore. At all.
Not even with the Revlon factory on your face
and had she swallowed a Belgian blue cow.
I ought to thumbtack your chair,
loosen a few bolts, and listen for you
to fall. Then laugh. That would teach you for putting
eyes on me. Spying over my shoulder.
Reporting me for being.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
I want to love, freely,
and to be loved, fully.
I do not want to buried alive, suffocated,
relegated by cattle car to a work camp
because we waited too long.
Heartbroken in stripes of barbwire,
complaining to a single louse
of our secret unendorsed affair
while you entertain grand possibilities
I do not want to be hidden in a dirty attic ―
conditioned to flinch
at the sound of boots on brick,
a barking dog, screeching brakes,
gunshots, or broken glass.
I want to be understood, admired,
read and reread, thought upon, by you!
Not unequal but equal, your equal.
Not pitied beneath your shoe.
Asked what I meant, what I mean,
or my opinion of things, the universe.
Not of piano keys or songs I never wrote.
Our lessons, only.
Of God. Of dreams.
To live in the light. To not have
rationed nights because you worry
they will know.
Not to be beleaguered in their drab grayness,
their black skulls, their bloody fists, their murders.
To play all the keys with fresh daffodils in a vase
on your father’s piano and the sunlight
of an open shade upon your face.
I want to be moral, share morals,
despite the regime. Despite their fascism.
The past razed not consecrated.
Not condemned or abandoned, raised!
Exalted and praised, not vilified or shamed.
I want compassion and love,
dreams and dedication. Your naked soul
on mine without white gloves
and the excuse of your lesson. A full bottle of wine.
Your culture. Your hobby. Your time.
I want good mornings and good nights.
No more good afternoons.
A lifetime. I want a lifetime! Enough to hear
you play the entire concerto with
the orchestra of your soul.
I want to kill him with my hands, or
you to drop the rat death upon him.
To procure us tickets to unoccupied Spain,
dressed as migrants, us both in black suits.
Red roses pinned on our lapels.
I want to be spoken, not your secret Jew
without photographs because they might see.
They, they, they! Declare me!
Love is neither ever on holiday
from itself or in itself a vacuum.
Do you want my love or their admiration?
Both do not exist in our Germany.
I want to be the island. The vacation. The train.
And all of Spain in your eyes.
I want to be valued. Not told to wait. Not instructed to sit.
Not dependent upon a mood, a fear, or the outcome of war.
Not passed upon or put upon.
I want to be missed when I’m gone,
sick in love, not worry.
Noticed not flouted.
I do not want to linger any longer.
Lost then found. Found then lost.
To wear their star, their shame.
To be slurred by your family and your
ethical friends that fuck for class.
To be chaperoned.
I want coffee and cake
in a café in Paris on the Champs-Élysées
when it is not the rat’s Paris.
When it again belongs to love and light.
I want your sobriety, not the excuse
of being drunk, a mistake
buried in your luggage ―
because you were lonely or stressed.
Passion! I want you to understand.
I want your passion! I want a clean kiss
not a dirty apology. Not cigarettes.
No more sorrow! Or war. Or excuses!
I want hellos that are life, breath, blood,
and goodbyes that are not death,
when each is not likely our last.
I am not a secret to be kept in
a closet. On a satin coat hanger.
Never worn but for when no one is looking.
Played upon, but for when no one can hear
then put away again with the lesson —
my letters in a cigar box with a false bottom.
I want to be a declaration,
not a whisper. To be you as you are to me.
To fill and be fulfilled.
I want to walk out of this dank room
and proclaim my love for you. Share a ring.
A child. A dirty Jew child. And father yours
so they are not hate machines.
Declare it in some manner!
Play for them our Danse Macabre,
mimicking the violin with your nimble fingers.
Or I shall depart from you at midnight for a new life.
A lone migrant to Spain on pawned loans
without the fear of jackboots,
goose-stepping waltzes, and your tepidness.
You will have your piano and
I will have a red rose on my lapel
with no star or burden to demarcate me.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
There is a cactus on the desk that looked to me like a prickly green hand emerging from a terracotta-red cuff ― one of those cheap clay pots that break easily. The lady behind the desk is obese and has beautiful dark skin. She has soothing eyes and a warm smile. She smiles and hands me a grape sucker because she remembers me rooting through her glass jar last time for grape, or what I called purple. Purple, she said, is her favorite color. My grandma’s shoes squeak as we walk back. Her polyester pants swish and I imagine I am the only person in the world that can hear either noise. I stare at the green waves of her stride. She takes my hand, which is an odd feeling because I don’t remember touching her except for when we come here ― or when she smears my face with the lipstick of an occasional and dreaded kiss usually reserved for holidays when her breath smells like crackers, cheeseball, and peach schnapps. She smells like cigarettes and orchids in memory. She is mean and nice all at the same time and her hand is warm and calloused.
The people mingle about uniformed in light blue gowns and bright white slippers. I can see their bare backs when they turn around, boney blanched-white skin, bloated yellow pig flesh, or hairy curtains matted on raspberries. They wear paper underwear and make loud noises, or no noise at all. One tall bald man fans his arms apart and runs around like he is an airplane. His mouth sputters as though he is experiencing engine failure but at the last moment the engines recover and he soars through clouds of fluorescent light. His eyes are large and seem never to blink. His eyebrows are graying ungroomed hedgerows. He is one of the boney ones whose back ribs look like a ladder. I have seen him more than once. I know the sound of his airplane well.
Mom is sitting on the bottom of her bed watching TV and I eye her from the hallway where grandma made me wait. Nurses pass pushing carts with medication. An orderly helps a bawling young woman walk down the hallway to a room that swallows them. I hear grandma say you are lucky to have a TV in your room and The Wheel of Fortune blares ― the loud tick of the wheel. The ding, ding, ding of correctly guessed letters. The buzz of an incorrect guess makes me jump. I brought someone to see you, she says to my mom cheerily. She waves a hand to me and I waltz into the dim-lit room with my head down afraid to look at her. She isn’t herself in real life when she is here. She is cicada skin. Her skinny white legs dangle from the bleached bed, bruised and unshorn. Her feet are tucked into two puffy white bunny rabbit slippers. They aren’t real bunny rabbits and I don’t know where she got them but they stare back at me with watchful pink eyes. Mom gawps at me as though she doesn’t recognize my face. Or as though I am painting in her mind a universe of memories, of which I cannot tell are pleasant or otherwise. She looks at me like I looked at the cactus.
I would like to buy a vowel, please. An E.
Yes. There are two Es.
Vanna White was the most beautiful woman in the world to me when I was seven. I felt badly for once wishing she was my mother and my mother turned letters, only to be seen briefly when the wheel stopped ticking. My grandma doesn’t take her eyes off the television. It was a marvel to her, born when she was still a young woman fully aware of life without its placation. The Wheel was what we were watching at her house before we came. My mom smiles and hopped down on her two bunny rabbit feet. Their ears flop forward and their eyes are still affixed upon me. She slides forward as though she’s on ice and kneels down and looks at me without saying anything at all. No hello. No hug. The grape sucker is in my hand which I tuck behind my back instinctively, fearful of losing it to her. I imagine, though, my lips were a purple indictment of its presence. She smiled but still doesn’t say anything and I feel uncomfortable and weird like I want to run. Her eyes are glassy and she puts her hand on my head and rubs my hair. My grandma turned her attention to us and I can see her wrinkled face over mom’s shoulder and the glow of the wheel in her glasses. A plastic bracelet slides back on mom’s arm and she rubs my head as though she was looking for something in my hair.
You be a good boy for your grandma. There aren’t too many nights left on her davenport, she smiled assuring me. I’m going to get out soon! She whispered the last part as though it were a secret. But my grandma promised me that more than once every single day.
He’s a good boy, grandma spoke up.
I lived in fear at my grandma’s house. Of my blind grandfather who sat in a chair like a statue all day and the chime of a grandfather clock in the middle of the night when all the lights were out. Of a cement cat and pictures of dead people all over the walls and of the smell of old age and smoked cigars.
I don’t say anything. I don’t know this mom. I don’t know anyone.
There is a curtain which divides the room. I cannot see the other side but there is a man sitting there and his voice was low and muffled. He was speaking to someone in a bed I presumed to be situated before him. I can see his cowboy boots beneath the curtain and the cuffs of his gray pant legs in the agape. Whatever he said was spoken with a grave air of finality. He sounded frustrated by whoever he was talking to and he pauses as though to allow the person to speak, but they say nothing at all unless it was spoken in a whisper I could not hear.
The buzz sounds and I jump. There are no Ns.
What is it that you have that turned your lips purple? she asked.
Reluctantly, I reveal my slobbery sucker and she looks at it.
That will do it, she grins.
My grandma goes back to watching TV, no longer concerned about the two of us. An orderly in white brought a dinner tray and mom gave me a brownie which was dry and hard. I dropped my sucker on the floor and my grandma swooped in and threw it out. She promised we would get another before we left, though I didn’t fuss or even ask. The man behind the curtain in the cowboy boots stepped out. He was very tall and had gray slicked hair which he combed over with his large pink hand. He had an enormous belly and a belt buckle that seemed to keep it in place. He smiles politely at us and nods in deference, puts on a gray cowboy hat and quickly leaves the room.
This Side of Paradise, said a beautiful voice from behind the curtain.
My mom whispered something to my grandma and grandma shook her head. I would like to buy a vowel, Pat. An O.
There is one O.
Mom sat up in bed and picked at her food. She said she never eats on Tuesdays or Thursdays because the lady who cooks on those days puts chemicals in the food to control their minds. She says she has no intention to bark like a dog or quack like a duck because someone wants her to. My grandma says horsefeathers. I can hear the man’s cowboy boots walk up the long hallway and the engine of a swooning airplane that recovers, again, at the very last minute.
The room grew dimmer. The lights ensconced in the ceiling are turned low and there is little light coming from the darkening sky outside that is the blue shade of a bruise. There is a large window I look out of which puts me unwittingly on the other side of the curtain. I stood there, awestruck by a sea of cars that are each the size of a matchbox. I tried to see my grandma’s truck but couldn't find it. The headlights from the road came and went, red and white eyes all in a row. Cape Cod-style houses lined the street and porch lights were scattered. It had rained and wet leaves fall and collect on lawns and I watched a dog romping around in a front yard with a little girl in pink. A Jack-Lantern’s face glows on a porch reminding me that tomorrow is Trick-Or-Treat. Then I look over and realize the other person in the room is there watching me, all the while, smiling. She waved. She was beautiful but her face was badly beaten and splotched the color of a grape sucker. I darted away, rather rudely in retrospect.
There are three Ss. Vanna turns them.
I would like to solve the puzzle, Pat. This-Side-of-Paradise.
You got it! [Audience applause.]
We left but didn’t stop to get another sucker and the dark-skinned lady at the front desk smiled and said goodbye, sugar. I asked grandma if we could stop at Super-X to buy me a Halloween costume. I had no idea what I wanted to be. I was a ghost last year. Maybe I would be a cowboy or a bruise.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Rose drew her hand to shield her face from the anticipated blood splatter. What she had seen in videos. The pig was raised by its hindquarters, hooked to an assembly in the rafters, the gears of which were laden with grease. The heavy chains that whickered melodically as they dangled in anticipation became taught as it was hoisted. Abe held the knife firmly, steadying the swaying pig that was fighting fervidly despite her obvious exhaustion and anxiety. Rose surveyed him in disbelief. Her mind was saturated in the chaos, beaten down by the reality that came in the putrid stink of pig piss, manure and fear. She had felt something for him, prior to watching him clutch the knife staring glassily at the helpless animal. She had never seen him kill and after a few weeks, she had thought him incapable of doing so, though she knew he was one of them. They all were them. A professor once taught her it is dangerous to see life in those terms — us and them. But life taught her it was naïve to believe it was any other way.
Sometimes it had been as though they worked somewhere else and in some way he made the immorality of their occupation seem somewhat emotionally bearable. They had never talked to each other, but they had shared glances and what she believed to be affectionate smiles as they passed each other throughout the course of their shifts in the drab warehouse or in the equally morbid breakroom. There was nothing she could do now, she thought. He was bigger and stronger than her. He was wielding a large butcher knife and his gloved hand was trying to get the pig steady enough to slit her throat. She chastised herself for seeing compassion in that he apparently sought a clean cut. That his deliberateness exemplified mercy. She forgave herself for her callow delusions with reassurance that she wouldn’t feel for him further anything but the disdain he so obviously deserved.
They both wore standard white coats, but Abe’s was stained pink as testament to his status. His years of horrible service, she rendered. Discoloration is like stripes on a Nazi SS man. You don’t get either for being a humanitarian. After a while working in the slaughterhouse you can’t get the blood out of your work coat, or off your boots, just as you cannot get the scream of the dying animals out of your head. Rose woke up at night hearing them — that piercing squeal of a sow torn from her babies. Or the cry of orphaned piglets. Her coat was virgin-white. She had only been at the slaughterhouse for two weeks and she couldn’t imagine working there any longer. Today was it. Once she saw Abe kill the pig, she knew she wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. She would have to do something else. She would ask for reassignment. Although a stranger ― one of them ― he was the only redeemable human being in the plant, her sole connection to humanity and she had decided she couldn’t cut that thin thread or else they would have to pump her full of antidepressants again as they did when they told her she was crazy, but curable, in the kindest of words. There was something in his eyes she could not describe, but now they glassed-over as he caressed the animal’s head looking over his shoulder placidly. She stood there because the foreman had ordered her to go to the kill floor and watch. She knew he was suspicious of her. Her job was to pull a motorized pallet jack of carcasses from one place to another and to clean blood off the concrete floor with a mop. She reached down and rubbed the pendant of her necklace and reassured herself of her purpose. She recalled the foreman telling her she was too pretty for this place, offering her something in the office. She declined and said she hated numbers. She dreaded papercuts and spreadsheets.
The foreman looked on from behind them, grinning snidely at the back of Rose’s pretty head, his face gurned reflexively. His red-cropped hair piled in a patch on top and the pink flesh of his head exposed under the bristled peninsular sides. He was tall and thin and hunched over, bent as though his back was permanently warped. His family had owned the slaughterhouse for the past hundred years. In the last twenty it went from processing two hundred pigs a year to ten thousand. The strain of that expansion was evident on all the managers who had been there before and after. His face was smooth and hollow and his cold eyes never seemed to possess an emotion, even when he laughed and joked with the workers, which usually was hostile and teemed with bitterness. His father was the same, only older and more austere. Their sociopathic genetic disposition was as obvious as their pink-stained souls which they could not remove like coats, Rose had written privately. “You can’t be compassionate working here,” she recalled being told by her trainer. “Don’t worry. The horrible things you see will be normal after a few months and nothing will seem so bad ever again. That is how it is. You get used to it.” The trainer was on unpaid medical leave due to carpel-tunnel.
The foreman rubbed his knobby chin and told Abe to hurry, there were other pigs to be processed. He chastised him for not using the other eleven chains that swayed eerily. Abe didn’t seem to notice. He didn’t take his eye off the animal, though occasionally, he glanced up the chain as though God were in the gunk of the grease. He looked at the pig reverently and rubbed its head to calm it which caused the foreman to balk and chortle at his apparent sentiment. Rose couldn’t figure why there was only one pig hoisted when so many were due to be processed. She had never been on the kill floor. Abe looked like someone who had snapped to her.
“Rose, go hold it,” the foreman said flatly. She didn’t understand what he said. “The pig. Go hold the fuckin’ pig.”
Abe looked at her as she approached but he was not there. Perhaps, it is what they do when they kill, she said to herself. No, she knew better. She heard them laugh of it. Abe was different. She approached slowly and half-hugged the large sow, trying to pacify the frightened animal who had been betrayed by those who had fed and housed her. She winced in pain and fright. A row of nipples from which piglets had recently been weaned leaked onto Rose’s hand.
Rose waited for the inevitable. She reached up and fixed her pendant one more time. The sow stopped screaming and its left eye was fixed on Abe as though in a trance. That was what he was waiting for. The room was dim and hot and the fluorescent lights buried in the rafters flickered and hummed. The electric saws in the other room droned like angry hornets. What lived, lived in the light. What died, died in the dark. There was no light when they killed the pigs. It was always in the night. And the concrete of the kill floor was stained with a mark no mop could remove.
She heard Abe mumbling the Lord’s Prayer when the foreman impatiently barreled forward towards him, slaughter gun in hand to shoot the pig. Abe swung his arm out and caught him, taking the much taller man to the ground. He looked at Rose and nodded for her to lower the chains from the wall assembly without saying a word. She couldn’t believe it. She froze. The foreman had busted his head and began to scream but Abe had control of him with his left hand and let go of the pig and knife and knelt down and jammed his balled fist in the foreman’s mouth and pushed down as hard as he could into his throat. Rose found the switch to the gear assembly and let the pig down and it thrashed and screamed trying to break away from the loose chain. The chain whipped violently against the concrete. But no one could hear it. Rose watched Abe choke the foreman with his fist until he no longer moved. His eyes were wide-open like boiled eggs staring at the grease of the chain assembly, at the flickering fluorescent lights, at Jesus. The knife lay to his side. The slaughter gun to his other.
“Open the side door and let her out!” Abe called trying to contain his adrenaline. He yanked his fist from the foreman’s throat and wiped it on his chest. Rose stood there for a moment in panic. Abe calmed the pig again and unlatched its ankle. “Do it now!”
She raced for the gray door that was about twenty yards across the kill floor. Abe slapped the pig and it followed her. What would it do when it got outside? she thought. There were miles of woods and no factory-farmed animal that knew only automatic feeders and fluorescent lights could survive without being discovered and either returned to the slaughterhouse or used for a hog roast. What the hell just happened? Her mind was fractured, she thought, and this was not real. This is what happens when subjected to severe trauma, when you haven’t the ability to switch off compassion and be a killer. None of this is real. Who is he? She hit the door hard, slipped and then opened it. The pig followed and was out the door with her. Waiting outside was an open horse trailer with an idling diesel truck before it. Two people in black masks grabbed the pig and quickly tethered it, leading it up the ramp into the trailer where there were a dozen more pigs. There was a gate between the ramp and the trailer and another masked person opened it in time for the pig to enter. An apple tumbled down the ribbed ramp and rested in the parking lot. They didn’t say a word. Rose looked at them in disbelief. Her first thought was that they were some sort of poachers. Then Abe came out of the door to ensure the pig was safely secured, waved to the masked persons, and jerked Rose back inside.
“What the hell was that?”
“Animal rescue. We can’t save them all but we save a dozen here and there.”
“Where do they go?”
“Everywhere. Animal sanctuaries up and down the east coast. Some as far as Florida.”
“You are going to get caught!”
“Some day.” He grabbed Rose’s pendant and pulled the necklace off and put it in his pocket. “But not like that.”
“Everyone knew. That is why they didn’t let you see anything.”
They were confronted by the foreman’s body on the kill floor. “You killed him.”
He shook his head at her dismissively. “No. This asshole had a heart attack. So go call 911. Get help. Now!”
She ran and looked back and saw Abe kneel down by the foreman’s body and begin CPR. She could hear him counting as she ran to another room where there were dozens of migrant workers with knives and bandaged hands cutting and separating pieces of meat from the carcasses of slaughtered pigs and throwing them into separate bins. They don’t pay Americans well enough for that kind of work. People desperate for a wage are all they can get. And when you are desperate for a wage compassion is often mitigated by hunger.
She screamed it. The foreman is having a heart attack. Help! Dozens responded and found Abe doing everything he could to save the foreman’s life. It was too late. The ambulance came and took the body away. Paramedics assured Abe he did all he could do and patted him on the back. The foreman’s father shut down the operation for the night so they could grieve their loss. The truckers slowly pulled out onto the black highway with empty trailers and the migrant workers wondered if they would get paid for the night. They walked in a swarm through a dark field to a nearby motel where they were staying six to a room. They gathered around an Our Lady of Guadalupe candle and prayed for their jobs. The parking lot was nearly abandoned but for the moths in the security lights and the cracks in the pavement. Rose could see a police officer talking to Abe a hundred yards away by the back door as she sat on the hood of her car with her face in her hands. Activism was never supposed to be easy. She wondered if they would charge her with murder. She wondered why Abe’s coat was pink if he wasn’t one of them. She saw the policeman shake his hand and slowly pull away in his cruiser. His tires sounded as though they stuck to the hot asphalt. He stopped in front of her car.
“You okay, Ma’am?”
She nodded, yes. She did not speak a word for fear her voice might betray her, or her words might give her away. He nervously nodded back and drove off. She watched as his taillights disappeared on the highway thinking falsely their distance would give her comfort. She watched Abe stand there for a moment by the back doors, the apple by his feet. He picked it up and chucked it as far as he could. She watched it splatter a few hundred feet away. He lit a cigarette and climbed into his truck and drove away. He passed her without stopping. Without even looking over. Maybe he didn’t see me, she thought. Or he didn’t want to see me. She hoped he would turn around but his taillights faded and left her with no resolution. Not that there was any to be had. She took a deep breath and realized she had inadvertently forgotten to take off her white coat. Her laminated identification was clipped to her lapel and she held it in her hands and stared at her name and photograph. Then she rubbed her eyes and drove home. She would ask for a reassignment in the morning. And she would burn her coat that was soaked with a thousand squeals and a stench she would never stop smelling.