18 April 2009


One time we went to the river
to play with guns and
I have a photograph now
of her

She is barefoot here
on a sparkley flat part
Her dress is unbuttoned
and hitched up around her waist
The pistol is level and she has one eye closed

Here is also
a paper target
I saved I think that is
pretty good shooting

This is us
and I can see her right away
but what was me
is very hard to recognize

We were on our way back east, which shows,
and resting on her friend Jackie's porch
Simone has good color and shows her fine leg
to outline my sulleness

My sister's wedding was so funny
and here's a picture of it:

Simone is laughing
which was always something to see
My smallest cousin is hugging her knees
They became a blur of
white clothing and obscure familial relationships
Somebody wrote it all down on the back
and it says "R. w/girlfriend & Shawna (age 4), 1983"

Though I once had many hundreds of photographs of her
I have lost them mostly not wanting
to see Simone as a picture
a place to hang upon
but so more important to remember the way
she sat bold on a white tub's edge
to wash thick blood from her thighs

17 April 2009

Catfish Laments

Walls of it
banks of it
rolling airborne moisture
is enough to wet these gills
and their pulsing red was pulse for you
An icthic shift of tense
from "being" to "having been" to "used to be"
I am motile
I am walking
across the highway

At the bottom of the aquarium
I am hiding behind the colorful gravel,
wedged behind the aerator,
upside down
Angels and tetras flash angular
but I am smoothly still
and remain so
even when the fingers tap our walls
When we are fed
I am waiting
whiskers stiff for the shreds that settle
down through solution

This place is porcelain
and we writhe within it, shallow
in memory of deep rivers
light laddered waters
and powerless against hooks and lines
how we rose confused and angry
to gasp against a thing called sky
above again ourselves

16 April 2009

Angela Said the Safe Word

Angela said the safe word, the special word, the holy word that would make her Daddy stop beating her. Sometimes he would take off his belt and whip her bare legs while she screamed and sometimes he would stand over her bed and pummel her with his hands, slaps and fists both, and sometimes he would kick her when she fell to the floor. As much as his beatings hurt her, Angela was more deeply hurt simply by the fact that he wished to hurt her at all, that her own Daddy was the one. It wasn’t a stranger or a bad man or a boogey man or a monster. It was her own Daddy and he was the same Daddy who could give her a present, a stuffed animal from Antarctica, for no reason at all and she tried to tell him again, to remind him, but the blows came too thick and too hard.

“Penquin,” she tried to say but Daddy just kept swinging away.


Undercover Officer Angela said the safe word. If, at any point during the illegal transaction, she felt that things were going south, were getting too dangerous, she could say the safe word and the body wire she wore would transmit the signal to her fellow officers and her back-up would rush in, no question and no hesitation, guns drawn, ready to shoot and kill any person or thing that even appeared to threaten her.

Bad Boy Roy the big-time meth dealer kept looking at Angela funny, kept making comments about her breasts, kept trying to put his hands on her. When it became more than clear that all Roy’s thoughts regarding the illegal drug business had been replaced by thoughts more carnal if equally illegal, all Angela had to do was say something like “I need ice [underworld slang for high-grade methamphetemine] worse’r’n a penguin” or “I’m colder than a penguin’s tit in a brass bra” or even just “OH, shit, fellas…PENGUIN PENGUIN PENGUIN” and, within seconds, large numbers of the large men who were her fellow narcotics officers all armed with large weapons would burst through every possible door and window all of them screaming “GET DOWN POLICE GET DOWN POLICE POLICE GET DOWN.” It was a comfort to say the safe word and hear the sound of splintering wood and shattering glass, to watch Bad Boy Roy the big time meth dealer go flying across the cruddy room underneath a few hundred pounds of police officer or, perhaps, see the top of his head lift off after some coaxing with a hot load of double-ought buckshot.

Later, after all the arrests had been processed and the evidence catalogued and the reports written and the cops went to their cop bar to unwind and relax, Angela would tell the story again to everyone who hadn’t been there and she would tell them about the safe word and how it worked perfectly.


Angela said the safe word, the word once uttered that drew an immediate halt to whatever was happening. She hardly ever had used it in her edgier sex-play; the scenes were too contrived and her partners too trusted to ever really require its use. The boundaries between pain and pleasure had blurred within her over-stimulated nerves and there was little within her usual partners’ imaginations that even threatened to transgress what was left of her boundaries whether physical or otherwise. Angela couldn’t remember the last time she’d even thought about using the safe word.

“Penguin,” she said. “Penguin.”

Jeffery stopped what he was doing; he paused in his work, transfixed by the sudden intrusion of Angela’s humanity into their scenario. Her swift coup realigned the power in the room and he could physically feel it as control of the situation congealed around her.

“Penguin, motherfucker,” Angela snapped. “And I mean right motherfucking now.”

Chastened, Jeffery clawed at the knots to free her.


Angela said the safe word. Rarely did she ever resort to using it, that magic word which when uttered would draw an immediate halt to whatever was happening. It was the word to let her partner or partners know that things had gone just a bit too far and the scene should stop.

And there she was, cinched tight into a black latex corset, her limbs encased in elaborate rope bindings, her nipples transfixed with a nimbus of silver needles, her labia literally chained together through the piercings lining each vaginal lip, her anus filled with a thick butt-plug. And she didn’t like the way this game was going anymore and she wanted it to stop.

“Penguin,” Angela said. It was the safe word. “Penguin.”

Thomas drew himself upright and tall. He looked down upon Angela, upon what he had created of her.

“You really have no idea, do you?” he asked.

“Penguin?” she pleaded. “Oh, penguin penguin penguin….”

“Shut. The. Fuck. Up,” he told her and Thomas punctuated his words with blows to her face.

The safe word was “penguin” and it was the last intelligible word she ever spoke. She continued to make noises, lots of them, at varying volumes, but none of it had much of any kind of meaning and no one at all was listening.


Angela said the safe word, the magic word, the word she’d always used when things got too intense, too painful, too hurtful, and she wanted them to stop. She really couldn’t speak the safe word aloud since they’d removed her tongue and sewn her mouth shut. But she could say it in her head and she did, over and over again.

“Penguin,” Angela repeated in what was left of her conscious mind. “Penguin penguin penguin.”

Stored away as she was, put aside for the moment in a convenient place to await further use, Angela could contemplate and meditate upon the state of her suffering and the nature of the word “penguin.” The word rolled through her mind and gathered its own momentum, rolling over and over again to become independent of all meaning, a noise in spite of meaning. She conjured a giant black and white bird with a fierce yellow beak and blazing yellow eyes who would shield and shelter her, who would carry her under the ice to cool green refuge, who would at least take her head inside its mouth and crush her skull to make the torture stop, a big savior bird who would help her.

Let them have her corpse (and she’d seen what they did with corpses) if she could only salvage just a bit of her rational mind, a tiny portion able to think clearly through the clouds of unholy pain and torment if even for just a moment.

“Penguin,” Angela chanted inside the tiny cell she’d built inside her soul. “Penguin penguin penguin.”


Angela said the safe word. She fell forward through layers of darkness hot and moist like sodden, steaming cobwebs and she said “penguin” to evoke a field of ice, smooth and cool, blue and green and bright, a place to glide gently to a stop and bask under the bright Antarctic sun.

She no longer plummeted toward destruction beneath a lightning-forked sky and black-patinaed rocks no longer rushed upward to smash her lifeless among their savage angles. Angela was safe, alone and safe in an icy, lifeless wasteland of pristine, crystalline stasis. Perhaps forever, perhaps until her body hits the ground, Angela reclines and freezes.


She said the safe word. She uttered the designated and sanctified word, the word that closed the spell and shut down the linkage forged between dimensions, the word she had chosen to weave into the geometry of the spell and the word she could pull to collapse its structure. Any good spell should have such an abort switch, especially one with unknown consequences and this spell, designed to open interdimensional gateways, certainly qualified.

“Penguin,” she croaked in all its absurdity while before her spread her first glimpse of that new unfolding world her spell had revealed hidden just behind or just beneath or just alongside this world. It was a universe of teeth and spine, thorn and razor talon, and it had no limit and it was a world without breadth or width and Angela was trembling in a state beyond terror within the junction of her world and this other world, between her world of flesh and blood and that world of violence past reckoning, and she scrambled to close this doorway before it fully opened.

“Penguin,” she whispered in the face of all that gnashing and slashing. “Penguin, please.”


Angela hung there like the meat she had become, lolling as it were, on the hooks from which she depended. Scarcely more than a head and a torso left of her (and those remains still and continuously most fouly abused), the shreds of what had once been Angela drooled and pissed and shat mindlessly; she was scarred and scorned, branded and tattooed and pierced and sewn and severed and smeared with her own wastes, fucked beyond recognition and into oblivion, a monument to cruelty and pain transcendent. Her eyes rolled senselessly in her head; what they saw or did not see was no longer relevant. Snot and saliva mixed and roped down from her mouth, torn and pulped around the stumps of shattered teeth and the holes where teeth once had been.

The chains hanging from her tattered labia jingled as she stirred upon her hooks. That small part of Angela still capable of any kind of sustained thought was curled up inside her skull, smiling, and that part of Angela was again aroused by the sound of the chains and that part of Angela was content to remember that there had once been a word she could have used if she had wanted to save herself from complete and total erasure.

But she no longer did.

15 April 2009

Hello! Hiroshima? Hello?

(is this line open?)

One city of blisters
is so much like my home town
it always rains;
the girls on the street will cry into the arms of the boys
who look in different directions;
everyone speaks a different language
even when the meaning means the same things
because it's their way of listening for something different;
the fish in the restaurants is always very fresh
if not downright alive;
these trees are palm trees, though still ever green, and
so is moss smearing itself across all the concrete walls.

Except for that/these/those few things,
it's exactly the same as my home town
(also, the keloid scars on the back of the neck of the man on the street car that goes by the river that goes past the house where I live when I live in one particular city).

It's a double sunrise day in my hometown and
the mist or the fog or the smoke or whatever it is
comes out of the mountains and
threads itself through the trees on its way to lower ground.

14 April 2009

The Memory Of Peaches In Post-Maoist Revolutionary China

It was Professor Chou again, this time and again, and again he was perched in every sense of the word, actually "perching" on the edge of our "shofa" and again he had another ream of forms and instructions for filling out forms spread across the coconut-fiber chest we used for a "ka-fei" table.

"Whatever you can do...," Professor Chou again said again. "It doesn't matter...anything...whatever...you can do..."

These particular forms were from a Swiss industrial firm that had somehow enmeshed itself in a joint-venture enterprise sponsoring geological research aimed at expanding the utilization of natural resources along China's western frontier. These particular forms were applications to a two-year executive training program, intensive language workshops and international business and management classes on the shores of Lake Geneva. I wondered where Chou got forms like this.

Professor Chou was in the Political Theory Department. His degree, apparently, was in Revolutionary Agronomy, whatever that might have been. His danwei , on the other hand, was based on his wife's employment in the Physical Education Department as a swimming instructor. However again, she actually worked and got her meal tickets and ration cards at the Foreign Language Institute across the road that connected the Number Four Road with the Number Nine Road since our school, Shaanxi Normal University, had no swimming pool and the Foreign Language Institute had a swimming pool (though, not surprisingly, the pool at the Institute was empty). On the third hand and because of shifting political winds, the Chou's assigned housing unit was actually part of the service staff and they lived among the cooks and groundskeepers who maintained the campus, faculty, and students. The Chou's was not an unheard of situation.

Lao Chou had joined the Red Guard when he was eleven years old, over 20 years ago. As a matter of fact, his initiation into the beautiful movement had involved the torching of his own school's Principal's family's collection of counter-revolutionary, priceless scrolls and prints. His current dependence on academia, especially the arcane academia created by the flourishing of decadent Western academic models and academic organizations, struck even Chou as ironic, considering how warm he remembered the flames from his ancient teacher's ancient library to have been. If Chou had been able to read well, he most certainly would have moved his lips. As it stood now, then, in 1985, Chou was most anxious to really put his university degree to use before it became a hindrance.

"What exactly is it you would like me to say here?" I asked him and his tea-cup had been empty for a good five minutes and there was no way I was going to move to refill it and we both knew what that meant, that it meant that I didn't want him to be there anymore and we both knew he was ignoring good manners and we both knew why. It was pathetic.

"The good things...errrr...," Chou said, the big smile spread across his face and his eyes out the window, on the desk-top's clutter, on the rug, and anywhere but at me. "The things that will make the Swedes accept me."

"They're Swiss," I told him again.

"They are," he replied and for several long and steadily getting longer minutes, he and I sat there, Professor Chou and I, and listened to the rattle of autumn leaves, big ones, hit the concrete as they fell from the maple trees that had been donated to the university years before by a Canadian delegation.

I still had my official student papers to look at, to mark upon, for tomorrow's classes and I also had a lesson to prepare for the following evening, for the "homen" night school inside the city walls where we moonlighted for wads, for fistfuls, for month's and month's wages of renmenbi .

I was going to be late meeting my wife and the African students at the College of Highway Knowledge dining hall for a Muslim dinner and bike ride into the city to watch the monkey opera in front of the State Department Store. They would wait, probably, until I arrived but the monkey opera guy had a strict schedule and would be gone eating snacks with his buddies at stalls set up under carbide lanterns, would be letting his monkey have sips from the tall green bottle of counterfeit, homemade, bootleg Xian Beer by 8:30 p.m.

Professor Chou had spent the 60s and 70s traveling the length and breadth of the People's Republic of China for free. Any train anywhere at any time was obligated to provide transportation to members of the beloved Red Guard; every restaurant, every home, every communal kitchen and warehouse was obligated to feed and clothe the vanguard of the beloved Chairman's thought.

Lao Chou's first sex had been one clear Mongolian night with a savage girl, a girl raised among the great herds of horses and shaggy two-humped camels, who'd braided red yarn into her hair and smelled of butter. They'd invaded the second-class cars of a westbound train and ridden for a week straight all the way from Nanjing and then they'd climbed aboard trucks, singing revolutionary songs, until they saw yurts and they'd jumped from the trucks to stand for a moment blinking in the middle of the great Steppe, alone together and come to bring the Great Helmsman's genius to the people who roamed there, tidal like the animals they tended.

I would not speak no matter how awkward this silence became. Whoever spoke first during this strange contest would lose. If I, no longer able to stand the tension building between us or the relentless and unbearable pressure generated by the steel will of Chou, cracked up and uttered human speech, I would be expected to neatly and carefully type up his application forms, his visa forms, his resume, his cover letter, and a letter of recommendation. If, however, I was able to withstand Chou's onslaught of manners, custom, "guanxi" , it would be unlikely that he would be spending any time in Zurich for a two-year training program.

We could both hear the early students, in pairs and in small groups and never under any circumstances alone, begin to leave the dormitories for the dining hall. The air began to glow as the slanting sunlight illuminated the dust and coal smoke hanging. I crossed my legs.

"I suppose you like peaches," Professor Lao said though he was looking at the quilt on our bed.

For a heartbeat, I thought he was referring to our housemaid, the country girl we'd nicknamed "Peaches" and who slept on a mat in the linen closet.

"I think maybe just about everyone likes peaches," the professor continued. "It's a pop'lar fruit."

It took another heartbeat for me to translate "pop'lar" into "popular." I was also inwardly ecstatic for having defeated my enemy.

"This time of year, errr...," Chou was practically babbling, pathetic. "This time of year...errrr...those peaches are ver' good. A lot of peoples are eating those peaches."

"Oh, yeah," I answered and I was struggling not to laugh, to jump on the coconut-fiber chest and dance across his sheets of blank spaces, to make up a victory aria and sing it, loudly. "Oh, yeah. Peaches are a hell of a fruit."

Lao Chou began to gather his paperwork and stuff it back into the baby-blue vinyl book-bag he used as a briefcase. It was the kind of "briefcase" a lot of the faculty acquired from the campus police lost and found department.

He stood up. I stood up and opened the door. Chou paused in the hallway, the book-bag against his stomach and the oily dandruff on his shoulders.

"Maybe...errr...I would please bring some of those good peaches," he almost whispered, eyes almost closed and looking down the hallway at the bicycles on the landing under the stairs and the refrigerator and the gas-ring.

"Thank you but please don't trouble yourself," I replied, my hand quite firmly on the doorknob.

Chou remained.

"My cousin's husband in the south has those kinds of trees," he said and I could barely hear him. "Maybe those fruits are ripen."

I looked thoughtful but I sure wasn't going to say anything and start things up all over again.

"Maybe they're ripen a long time ago."

We stood like that for a while and I suppose he was thinking about peaches because I was, strangely enough, thinking about Sweden.

"Okay," Chou finally said and in a normal voice. "Err...good bye." And he shook my hand and he waved at me standing there eighteen inches away before he turned away and walked away down the hall, the metal taps on his shoes snapping on the concrete floor.

From Artificial Rats & Electric Cats published by Camber Press, New York. (Click on the cover image for more information.)

13 April 2009

Heat Strokes Across Your Jagged Eyeball

the vicious whisper of thigh and vinyl when they rip apart
these angry red, negative tucks and rolls
deserve to be soothed with gentle balm but
don't count on it
I'm kicking you out of the car

35 cents for a soft drink is the legacy I will leave you
my advice is look for a clean rest room to wash yourself
you've been a good enough daughter but
you're a lousy date

12 April 2009

Novo Annum MCMXCIII (Em See Em Eks See Eye Eye Eye)

New Year's Day and lucky
with black-eyed peas,
a rosary on my dashboard and votive flames around the house,
an obsidian arrowhead and
one of the very first Transformers,
a rusty fishing lure (Daredevil small-spooned spinner),
and most of my baby teeth.
I need all the voodoo I can get.

The button on the cell phone is labeled
which really means
"dial again"
and I just can't do that.
I'm looking for other numbers now.

For five dollars a minute I can talk to whoever I want
and get her to say the things I've got to hear or,
more accurately,
the amusing things I think I might like to hear her say
if that is, indeed, who I've been talking to.

For instance:
The one about the house in the tropics with a special room just for cockatoos and the way they, those crazy birds, had completely trashed it, the way one of them crawled up her leg that time by the pool, his talons only gentle pressure against her thigh
the time when we were driving to Boston and stayed in a Nebraska motel one night and she woke in the early morning, thick and still road drowsy, confused in those unfamiliar surroundings until she smiled to see me there with her, the way her hair fell back across her eyes as she relaxed to return to her dream
the curves her body made as she knelt at the edge of a significant geological feature, her anxious caution dissolving until she could look right into the chasm, could follow the descent of the little rocks she dropped as they fell and clattered the distance.