Dinner Party

1. It shouldn’t occur to you while preparing for the dinner party that the hosts may have disappeared, or that some catastrophe may have befallen the underlying structure of their home.

2. Should it occur to you, brush it off and watch that your garlic doesn’t crisp up too much in the pan.

3. “You always put it in too soon, fucking dingbat.”

4. Surely they’re still there, living all around you doing what they do; not gone, not sinking deeper, dissolving, into the dreadful hole the second coffee is burning through your….

5. “– it’s just that they haven’t been returning my texts, you know – do they need anything – cups! – for fuck’s sake?”

6. Try and take it easy on your drive along the bay, where the feathery clouds stretching in the hopeful autumn air shush down the buzzing, gray, eternal —

7. Undying Season of Junk Death.

8. “Gah! Don’t be so dramatic, moisty boy. Gilroy is right there on the side of the house, he’s…”

9. Doing the Change Vomit trick, but we can’t spot a dirt bike kid in sight. (The trick is a fraud and everyone knows it. He never swallowed the quarters, but kept them anyway.)

10. “I didn’t mean it. I didn’t. I just needed a little extra to save for the turkey ties,” he says, and he leads us up the porch into a yawning hole, melted flesh and charred bone, the shattered glass of a heat lamp beside an exploded stove, where once, moments before, the dinner party might have been, maybe.

Count

The Count is present. I think He’s a He. Or it. Does He prefer It? Whatever. It or He goes by a name, probably something like Joe or Randall or Geoff. A boss name and if he doesn’t have a beard, he sits cross-legged immaculately shaved in a mid-century chair somewhere. Everywhere. And you can tell He’s wise or at least confident beyond man. Big something energy. A fucking know it all in a suit. He crosses his legs where a lot of guys, but not bosses I mean, might start to sit and then catch themselves thinking, “shit, if I keep sitting like this they’ll think my balls are all crushed up or I don’t have balls. I shouldn’t sit like this.” The Count doesn’t get anxious like that. He owns the ball-crushing type of crossed-leg, doesn’t adjust the outside of his foot to the opposite knee to appear quote unquote manly. He can sit forever like that just waiting for your inferior consult. In any case, I’ve never seen Him, but He’s there. A good question would be How do I know? Eat shit is how. Believe me, ok? He’s there and who else would I be asking my endless questions to everyday? Excuse me: To whom. To whom do I wonder how many, exactly how many, golden Mycenaean bull rings have yet to be discovered by aging archaeologists and will they all end up in the ground before the rings come out? See that’s a good one for The Count because he loves jokes too. Picture him laugh. He’s a real cool guy. And if you can’t see the smile beneath his beard you might catch a glimpse of those false teeth, a hint of panic white against a black void.

I dub thee unforgiven

I used to drink at the strange bar on Ridge Street. It was down some steps, a dark little place near my office and the air felt like sulfuric fog. The sign said “The Golden Egg” but I called it Fart Bar. It had a certain ambiance, which one might call a micro micro-climate. It was loud, lonely and laden with a stinking humidity of unknown origin. Now it’s closed and all the people that run it are gone. By gone I mean dead mostly.

Nothing good could happen there, but I liked it. I really did.

The bartender’s name was Dante, who wore a suit of leather and always had a cold. We didn’t speak much, but I liked watching movies with him from the dusty TV on the liquor shelf. For years, I was Dante’s only customer. People would peek in from time to time, but only long enough to take a whiff and shuffle out backwards, the way you might when a public toilet’s overflowed.

The knob held those clusters of golden dented bells you see on small town five-and-dime doors. They announced my entrance to that always-empty room, which I liked best in the Fall, when my shadow cut through the magic hour light, marking a path straight for the jukebox.

Dante would give a welcoming grunt and flick a token to me from behind the bar. It was a green plastic disk with a fading silver print: “The Golden Egg: Good for a Dozen.” Dante poured heavier when I played Metallica, so we often watched the VHS version of First Blood on mute with Ride the Lightning blaring from the speakers.

Fart Bar offered just one happy hour special every day from dusk to dawn: an all-you-can drink order of a disgusting whiskey called “Acheron Shores”, which Dante let me drink on a running tab. I never heard of a booze buffet, but he said the owner had a special arrangement with the distributor. One day I wondered aloud what an arrangement with a cheap whiskey brand might look like. Dante said, “I’ll show you.” But he didn’t take the usual steps of tightening his velcro-strap leather gloves and pouring another into my slowly poisoned body. Rather, he came around the bar, pulling me up from the stool.

“There! To the back. I said I’ll show you.”

Dante led me to long set of stairs to the sub-basement and then down a musty hall, much farther than I imagined the building went. I could hear music thumping from behind a door, which was outlined by a bright red light, the edges softening with movement of shadows behind. I held up slightly. My nerves were beginning to stir from under the warm blanket of booze I had drank upstairs. The familiar stink was slowly losing its power to a feint but metallic sharpness. The smell of something terribly wrong.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “There’s nothing they want with you. And you wanted to see the whiskey, right? Here, come” – and pulling my body forward, Dante pushed open the door, covering our bodies with a wash of red light.

My eyes adjusted and I watched in horror as a giant mass of maggots crawled over every inch of the ceilings and walls, over each other, over us: writhing piles of glistening annuli, pulsating to the beat like a disembodied muscle spasm.

My body was shaking and going limp, but Dante pulled me forward. I slipped and lost his hand, falling into what I could now tell was a layer of warm, sticky liquid. My hands were wet and smelled undeniably like iron. The maggots’ ravenous feeding hummed horribly like a buzzsaw over a steady rhythm. Dante screamed in laughter, “This is it! This is what a deal looks like. Hell, isn’t it? But goddam it’s delicious – look, look, a party! ”

Dante cleared a patch of the wall with a sweep of his leather gloves, revealing a human arm draining out to the maggots below. He scooped up a pool in his cupped hands and told me to drink. I obeyed. He cupped more. I drank. I started to scoop more from the floor myself, over and over, pushing my nerves, my entire moral fiber back down below the rush of intoxication. I batted the maggots away and saw entire bodies reveal themselves to me, dead but not dead, draining, feeding, intoxicating. Dante screamed and screamed and I took up the call like a brother hyena, completely overtaken with a wild self-interest. I was nothing other than this insatiable need.

I was crouching before the head of one of these poor souls, about to take a bite like father Ugolino when suddenly an official looking man called out to Dante, “Take ‘im back upstairs, you fucking idiot! Members only, ya know the rules.” Dante cursed under his breath and pulled me up with a strength hidden under his skinny leather mold. Blood like drool rolled down my chin, bouncing back up the stairs as my eyes rolled back back back….

***

On New Year’s Day some time later, I read the health department closure notice, not surprised but forlorn. I remembered every one of those eternal night rituals, ruing the drudgery that each tomorrow would bring. I remembered every time Rambo cried over “The Call of Ktulu.” I raised my glass once more, knowing that there’d never be a better bar in this town.

This story.

apocalyptic daydream

This story doesn’t want characters. It has a place and the names of people — — all important, but as backdrop; the what is of this brief marker in time, passing. One man, murdered over a disagreement pricing horses. Two people, seeking shelter from a hail storm, fallen in love. A beggar, earning the price of chai, recites heartbreaking poetry to camel breakers. This story wants from the reader: just one image, a crossing, from two sides of a world and the color of its shared sky. Town and country, animal and man, divided neatly across an endless track, all under an anxious low ceiling of purple, dust and rage. This story wants to go home.

Begonia maculata

He was a middle age man that lived in an old apartment on the edge of a park. The morning the begonias bloomed from his throat was the morning of the farmers market. He did the only thing he knew with panic and ran down to the crowd of composters and pumpernickel seekers, the spotted leaves swaying across his chest like a beautiful gown. Butterflies flitted about his face, drawing a delighted crowd of children to his side, all innocent to his muffled screaming. They circled and sang as he picked and pulled and gagged with wild intensity, his insides soaked leaves spinning to the ground in a dull splat of red, green and wet.

Amidst the joy, sunlight and fresh fired porcelains, no one took his torment as more than a quirk of vendor theatricality. As if suffering were impossible to conceive on too beautiful a day as this. The basket weaver approached cautiously, slipped a fiver into his back pocket and smiled. With a slow tug, he extracted a root anchored deep down in the man’s belly. Momentary relief turned to horror as another root, stronger and endowed with larger, more beautiful leaves, sprouted forth into the market.

He was a farmers market miracle.

Applause drew larger crowds eager to see the incredible begonia maculata man. Artisan jam mongers and hemp braiders, bread bakers and basement distillers, bartering wares for a bouquet of their own. The more they picked, the greater the begonias grew, until the man could no longer bear their weight. His moaning and cries died down into a faint hum beneath the leaves. A courteous someone left a clear jar by his pile: “Pay just what you can. Take only what you need.”

The night before he dreamt the new owners had hired landscapers to shear the thick ivy from his apartment’s facade. The rumblings of contractor cement trucks lined up on the street awoke him. He slipped out from bed, looked down pensively and picked a little leaf from his teeth.

desert recollection

stuck sank down thorns singing in their barrels
ocotillo always ocotillo dodging beer shards down through the distance

ten miles here looking like a footstep
killing fields on our easels
we imagined graced by our disgraced theater of anti-masculinity
first among generations

we ate poison
saw sounds
built castles in the sands
a world in boot treads
slept like dead

pink glow still shadow cast across a pugilist cactus patch
walking rotted wood on rusted horseshoes
peering down a tunnel of nothing
poison killed laughter but made new the sight

seeing through an approaching night toward sick dreams
split mind
internal voice damning
like an awful judge

on their way nowhere passed through camp eight glowing eyes and storming bellies
“narcos” someone joked the poison setting in again
we saw the lie of the city on the edge of the horizon
low city of the same same same same
lost forever disoriented back home in the maze of never there


Waiting Room Poem

The assistant tells me
stand on the scale
let me weigh your body

He proffers a foggy cup
inching closer and says
now move your bowels.

Clerical hens
Tapping away at the keys
Sidelong glances past the lychee.

I trapped a pellet like feed
and offer my shit to someone
anyone who wants a piece of me

(not a place for jokes
apparently)

–my self
In four cornered plastic sheets.

Don’t call
We’ll call you.
Doctor if anything’s wrong–

just wait. Wait
and place that worry on ice.