The Bicycle Review
Issue # 7
16 June, 2010
"Still Life With Bicycles" All images Copyright 2010 by Kristin Fouquet.
"Muttsy's Angels" All images Copyright 2010 by Muttsy. (Joe Rosenblatt)
Bicycle Review #7
Tis the tiddly umm Dumbs' day, where bouy the icicle curfew hath been weaned from its first moweth fool of fatty particulate.
Coagulates not with standing, it has been an fucksexful farce.
Share the Road,
J de Salvo
From the garden
So the light
We didn’t know
it at first,
and dared to
will it come back
Copyright 2010 by Jayne Lyn Stahl
THE LIKEWISE IMAGE
a face powdered with white chalk
follows me in mirrors wherever I go
a body that isn't mine is wearing
my clothes beneath the neck
of the face in the mirror
shirts vests jackets trousers
which are a perfect fit
but far too large for me
the image pursues me from below
shivering in ponds and puddles
shrouded by the tinted murk
of polished cabinets and tables
stretched or squinched beyond
all endurance behind stained
concavities and convexities
my plan now is to avoid it
to focus only on the dullest
or roughest surfaces
hoping the likewise image will
eventually give up the ghost
and set my real reflection free
from the trap or cell or trunk
which has been its prison
for so many years within
that vaster prison we call
the Other Side
Copyright, November 11, 2009 by Eric Basso
disease without suffering
cows without disease
milk without cows
grey fabric walls
memos on stationary
carpal tunnel vision
food grown in labs
people born in tubes
wars waged with casualties
his heart to beat diamonds
her face to go down
it to be what’s in movies
a president who cares about you
who worships your God
who lies but won't swear
a mental bunk-bed
one for you
one for You.
Copyright © 2010 by Vincent John Ancona
OLD TOWN ST. AUGUSTINE, MILLENNIAL NEW YEAR
Next door to my café, the gravestones looked
like budget horror. Strangly Spanish moss.
Above, the steeple walls were speckled pale
coquina, mollusk mulch, but coral-topped.
The ghost unscrews a lipstick.
Eye of the
beholder, maybe. Maybe it was my heart
ascending strangely, at millennium’s verge.
I picture, sort of, Touchdown Y2K —
me clowning in the end zone, gladrag’d, smug.
My choice, this venue. These canary Vettes
and straw high-heels. Slush in my booze.
At least I wasn’t in a mall. Yet
I’d always hated Jimmy Buffet. I
spent, what, a week? Allergic, squinting, pasty.
That churchyard there, I did keep coming back…
that’s me, at brunch beside the Pit. On
the mind’s cave wall, that’s how I like to paint
myself, a hero leaping round the fire,
with spear and drum and memorable chants.
As I recall, however, brunch and after
included nothing ritual, unless
you count the flirting. Servers showing off
their hips, those honored bones. And Jacksons, too,
dead Presidents, some mighty talismans.
The worship grows more feverish when
it’s not your money, when the 20s come
from Mom. Burn holy in your pocket.
Then, other bars, other bones. Painted nails
along the rails. Flip-flops’ crusted straps,
the shell and coral fixed as if in amber.
Oh high-sung Margaritaville, bring out
This in “old St. Aug,” of all
the so-called cities. Clown apocalypse,
that’s more Orlando’s style. Talk about
a spectre wearing lipstick. But here,
my only parent left had units left
Wasn’t like I did
a bad job, either. Wasn’t like I was
some legendary tomcat. It’s been years,
but I remember also taking Mass.
America’s first parish, right? As for
my pick-up lines, they showed restraint. No word
about Jim Crow, the ‘60s riots….
Instead I talked an earlier End-of-Times,
done up like Disney’s Lion King. That’s how
I put it, not a bad line, meaning De
Leon, conquistador in rouge and paint.
The Fountain of, etcetera? But
the watering holes he visited, he left
polluted. Spanish pox’d. Strangly bug.
Timucwa never knew what hit ‘em.
I hardly left a trail of fire, did I?
Hardly failed to realize where I was.
Copyright 2010 by John Domini
What You Do for Poetry
“In school, we always believed “Poetry” was a suck-the-fun-out-of-the-room word. Like Behave.” –Cornelius Eady
You pay high prices to attend conferences, sleep in all-girl dormitories at Christian colleges where there’s no booze, meat, or men allowed (but you sneak in the wine, dream about men and their meat), and there’s no air conditioning, so your body sticks to the plastic mattress covers. You get locked out of the bathrooms at least once a night, lie in the narrow bed, aching with a bladder full of contraband wine. You study with famous poets (even though everyone knows there are no famous poets except maybe Shakespeare and Bukowski) who tell you, “I have no idea what this poem is trying to say,” even after you have worked all sunny day to figure out that last heroic couplet. You attend poetry meetings in Nevada, where you carefully critique cowboy poems and inspirational verse, listen to arguments about where the commas in your poems should go, write down everything, as if it is the seed of some exotic flower waiting to bloom. Some nights, you meet said poetry group in the Casino Fandango, where a green parrot flies overhead, and if you are lucky, it poops quarters onto your table. You write all things true and false and halfway in-between on cocktail napkins, in journals your ex-husband reads, prompting him to think your affairs have been more ubiquitous and interesting than they have. Truth be told, you once fucked one of the so-called famous poets, but you must admit, it wasn’t for poetry but in spite of it. And the saddest truth of all is that the poems that came from that particular transgression are your most embarrassing, self-indulgent poems to date. Because you are not famous (so-called or otherwise) you give poetry readings at nursing homes, where the old folk struggle to rush the stage in walkers. You read your poems to other poets who only suffer through them because they get to read next. You give readings in coffee shops and hookah bars, where you compete with espresso machines, people coming and going, the gurgling water and apricot-scented tobacco bongs. The patrons lounged into bean bags, dazed with the rush of caffeine and nicotine, wondering, as you are, what you are doing there.
Copyright 2010 By Suzanne Roberts
Celebrate the Geek
The Geek will son be here
he'll come this year
and all the sad men
will be laughing, then
For when the Geek, he comes
he never comes alone
he brigns a treasure trove
and this much glowing gold
I now count out to you
Copyright 1999 by J de Salvo
Inside the hopelessly outdated mid-80's
technopop, a graveyard's giggling
in between inhalations of cocaine,
Kristal, and any degenerate nobody
willing to trade the skin of their body
for a well-lined whole in their soul.
Every snatched corpse snickers
at our tar-framed memorial;
every palm tree shakes its coconuts
waiting for used Chevys to return;
the rest of the campus barrio just grins,
knowing a fool when they see one.
You'd think a stolen childhood
and a lost adolescence would buy
a better visitor's pass than the
nanosecond furlough drawn.
You'd think every frostbitten body
deserved more than an hour
(or two) in the sun.
The problem is, justice depends on
basic belief in beings
any sane madman wouldn't give
a second thought to,
the very moment they stared at the
'Welcome to Arizona' highway sign
and found out little Virginia
is the one who should have been
locked up a long time ago.
Copyright 2010 by Adam Henry Carriere
Three Hundred Thousand Percent of my Daily Vitamin B12 Intake.
I'd walked up four flights of stairs drinking three hundred thousand percent of my daily vitamin B12 intake. I'd made it to the classroom early somehow and stayed outside with the other students. I pulled out my laptop and started playing music loudly.
A professor from the next class over instant messaged me. She asked could I turn down the music? The built-in camera mysteriously turned on. The little light lit up. The professor began to flirt with me, and simultaneously her students were walking out of the classroom. I decided to poke my head into the room, and I saw a refrigerator. It had a little speaker on the front, and it asked me my name, saying that internet handles aren't much to go by. I left promptly.
My classmates were still listening to music, and the retarded kid went to sit on my laptop, so I rushed him. I jumped onto his shoulders, and we came crashing down. Our class was starting to file into the room, so I stood up, dusted myself off, picked up the laptop, and joined them.
It was dark, and the projector was on, but there weren't any slides going. I sat down at the back of the room and unloaded my cellphone and cigarettes onto the desk. After the retarded kid made it in, the teacher made a fuss over him, and had the school's medical professionals come take a look, and the kid left with them.
The teacher changed her screen saver. It was that one with the marquee. It said that whoever did that to Benjy, they broke his nose, and he's really upset. It displayed through the projector very large across the wall. Benjy, by the way, is what we call the kid. There's a troubled mute in one of Faulkner's novels named Benjy.
I stood up and walked to the desk. I sat in front of her, but we couldn't hear over loud music. I think it was The Kinks. So I stood up again and sat right beside her on a drum bench. I told her that I had been the one that hurt Benjy. She kissed me on the cheek, rested her face on my neck, and told me to give her my address, which I did. She said she'd be over later, and that I should have a bag of weed and a bottle of wine. She'd bring everything else.
I returned to my seat at the back of the class, and noticed that there was a bowl of cereal. The girl that sits behind me was giggling. Inside the bowl was my cell phone. I said to her, stop putting my god damn phone in cereal. She said that she thought this one was a camera phone, as if camera phones we're okay to get wet. I said god dammit, it doesn't know how to swim, and it's lactose intolerant. Another guy's phone was in the bowl too. He picked it up and threw it across the room. It landed in the trash can. I bet him that he couldn't do it again and handed him my phone. He missed.
The class was dismissed, and on the way out I picked up both of our cell phones. I walked down the four flight of stairs slowly. I wasn't paying much attention as I walked outside, down more steps. Steps that only exist for aesthetic reasons. Some screams, a single voice calling out scary! run! what is that?
I look around. Nothing.
I look up, and there's some Aurora Borealis shit going on. An enormous wispy man that appeared to be trekking across the city. People were panicky. I thought that he looks like he's going somewhere, but since I don't know where, the chances of me getting stepped on are impossible to really calculate, therefore it's just as well I go about my day.
So I walked to my Geo Prizm calmly. I left and started thinking about Benjy and the professor. I stopped at a jewelry shop, and I looked at a spool of thick gold. I ordered enough to make a belt that you wear over your clothes, and I went home.
At home, I walked in. Somehow I'd forgotten that we lived near a beach. I'd forgotten all about the plastic folks my roommates kept around. There was only one black guy. They were having a party, so I ventured into the den and fastened clips on each end of the gold and wore the belt. I danced around in it for awhile, listening to lo-fidelity music that I found on my classmates cellphone.
I kept listening to anything lo-fi. It suited the gold.
I went into the kitchen. The black guy was there. He tried to take my belt and had forced me to hunch over. I headbutted his chest, and he tried to bite into my skull. I smashed my skull against his teeth, and they all fell out. He scrambled to get away and was holding his bloody mouth when I took off the belt and put it around his throat. I said, fine, you can have it. And I choked him until he stopped moving, and then dragged him to the sliding glass doors, opened them, and heaved him with the belt over the top of the balcony rail. When I turned around to go back inside, all the blood was gone.
I walked into the party and told them about the aurora monster. We opened a window, but there was just a little stream of pink in the clouds in the direction he was headed.
Copyright 2010 by Robert Louis Henry
How to Acquire Stigmata, According to the Discovery Channel
Miniscule infractions build
one by one
into a crescendo of
that decorate a weary crown.
These liquid and
stain the pavement.
Then, there is the sinister side;
the first expressed tenderness.
A studied bend of delicate wrist,
impudent heel of palm,
and those capable fingers
tapered to stillness
now spasm as
the hollow between bones
by a paranoid shaft
angled to a
perfect 68 degrees... but
one must not forget
the surety of the blind...
is now dispersed.
The veil lifted as
echo those of its
attenuated, delirious twin.
Here lies a pair of
defeated, spent soles
a diffident grasp.
one atop the other,
the tendons cease
heir protests as a
bolt of lightening
strikes them mute.
in the cinnamon
of waning light
to ease the
who lurking beneath,
whose manic hands
grasp a sluggish heart
with mortal knowledge.
Death and his steed appear.
The third afternoon hour reeks
of mystical apocrypha
as He slides
one skeletal digit
- aqueous and peaceful -
between the ribs
to set the spirit free...
Mercifully and deliberately,
he leaves the heart
Copyright 2006 by M. Lecrivain
Harvest Moon dream nightmare
Best Ride car service sat outside
Pablo, the driver, honked his horn
we wanted to get to Coney Island
by midnight and you weren’t around.
right after Pablo left you ran
up the block, your hair flying
behind you, said the libraries
had no books and a guy stopped
you, said he wanted a date,
you asked him if he represented
the state of New Jersey
and he got scared and ran away.
my grandparents stepped out
of their wedding picture
as i questioned you about the guy,
wondering if he was my ex-boyfriend,
but you described him only as someone
with teeth, so probably not one of mine.
we missed the fireworks as midnight passed,
stared at the Harvest Moon instead,
Pablo returned with beer and no car,
he didn’t care about New Jersey or the library,
my grandparents disappeared into the frame
and so did you and Pablo, as always,
i found my six copies of Good Night Moon
and pretended the pillow was a child
at 3 AM a barge passed under my window
and lent me some fireworks, the moon
turned towards the bridge, Pablo
went home to his wife, and you continued
your search for the library books, hair
flying wildly behind you.
Copyright 2010 by Puma Perl
Earth Surf: A Myth
(The decidedly non-scientific response to the
question: "Where do Earthquakes come from?")
Well, that gardener guy
wades knee-deep in air, now.
He is waiting, upside down.
His wet rubbered feet keep tipping,
but he knows, that if seen
from the sky,
the soles of his feet
are just slick black bouys,
jostled and tossed
in carbonated fish-blue waves.
It wears him out,
this treading of breath.
The swells slap sea-froth at his shins
while tiny excited shrimp
flit like persistent flies around his face.
He just sighs and sways,
dangling upside down
like some kind of sea bat.
Trying to keep his fingers busy,
he prunes back the pop-podding sea-kelp
and sculpts porous purpled coral
into vague Venetian mazes. . .
The truth is cruel; the gardener isn’t.
In fact, he isn’t even a gardener,
but a sly smirking artist:
builder of a sand Atlantis.
So he waits, upside down.
Sometimes he flips,
heel over head,
into the silvered surface,
touching mirrored glimpses
of his wavering face
in the shimmering ocean skin
Inside the tide, he listens
to distant clicking stones,
and shifting, sifted sand
as the currents pulse like silent drums
with the swirling murmur of singing fish. . .
But still, he waits
and wants something more.
Without the noise of rocks against salt,
this rhythm is like Muzak--
so soothing it crazes his heart.
He craves something unaquatic, non-pnuemonic:
chaos or clatter, laughter and the clack
of skateboards across sidewalk cracks. . .
Lonely, he learns to lift the coastal lip
and snap, flapping the Earth quick and long,
like the loamy tongue of a cartoon man. . .
And then, he waits. Upside down.
Copyright 2010 by Sarah Daugherty
Goodbye Blue Monday, Goodbye
At a quarter to 2 in the morning
Birds outside your window
Still think it’s noon.
We’ll take that time
To remind each other
That dreams aren’t aspirations
But all the things we’ll never do.
Let’s learn enough French to make sure
We’ll have a good time
If we ever end up there.
Let’s stay awake and watch the sun come up.
Ignore the fact it’s the same
One we watched set.
The chill of bastard winds
Will keep our eyes
From closing for too long.
The intoxication of promises to come
Sends us looking for more.
But just like the deaf
You can’t be told
All those things you need to hear.
So paint yourself in anger
While rational judgment gives way
To a sea of vodka
Backed by a wall of your pride.
You have aristocratic hands.
Use them to play Russian roulette
But use 6 bullets instead of
Copyright 2010 by Christopher Coleman
Stuck in a Music Lesson
(The possible story behind the picture)
The cool, uneven tiles of our one-room flat lie under me. The grime on the un-swept floor pushes against my bare feet and the weight of my hips causes it to cling. I am uncomfortable in my stance, but cannot move. He is somewhere behind me. I try to ignore the pain of the pebbles poking into my bare, tired feet by imagining that I am not here. I continue my work.
As I stand at my table – a musical instrument re-worked to suit our needs – I dream of the sea and the air and the wind in my hair; I wait until I am sure he will not notice and begin tidying what should have been done hours ago.
With Giuseppe’s attention absorbed by his viola, I bend my knee, lift my foot and scrape the dirt away. Rubbing first one, then the other, against my bare, smooth, leg, I brush the crumbles and sand that falls, making small piles beneath me. Using my toes as a broom, I sweep the dusty mounds under the workbench.
At the same time, below my lowered eyes, I watch as though from a distance. My hands work at trimming, cleaning and cutting, to prepare our food for tonight’s meal. I continue to drift in my thoughts of the open air. But the smell of the dirt and drippings on the floor, left behind from last night’s supper, rises up and brings me back to the moment. I cannot allow my mind to drift now, I know. Suddenly I feel the smooth floor again; the gravel is gone and my stand is smooth and cool. I plant my feet as I glance over my shoulder.
"Why can’t he sort it out?" I wonder.
Giuseppe is tall and fair-headed, with smooth olive skin. He is the boy from my childhood; the boy with a far-away look and a strong talent for empty words. He turns toward me as though he has something to say, but offers nothing. I continue the work at my hands.
Sometimes I think that I know Giuseppe better than he knows himself. He is clever, makes friends easily, never lacks options for fun and, when he chooses, can find work. I know that my husband of five years is a musician who enjoys the praise of patrons more than the money he earns to buy food and keep this one-room flat. It wasn’t always this way, however.
No matter his changed focus, Giuseppe still plays, as he always has, with great skill and sincerity. I don’t go to see him perform now, but I used to love to hear him sing and watch him stroke his viola softly, then wildly, in the cabaret near my childhood home where we first met. I remember on some nights, when the tenor of the audience was right, he would put down his viola and sing – his voice as soft as the red velvet lining of the viola’s case – songs with joyous melodies, not the sad laments that fill his nights now. This is the man I fell in love with. And the best nights, he once told me, were those that ended in a wild, clanging crescendo of coins tossed in appreciation. This is the man that I married.
This morning, Giuseppe arrived home as usual. It was half-past four in the morning. His keys’ searching for the lock announced his arrival. I glanced up from the table where I had been working for nearly an hour, and watched him lumber through the door, mumbling as he made his way. From the corner of my eye, I watched him as he laid his viola on the floor. When he was finished, I turned in search of his eyes. With a glimpse I knew what kind of a night it had been – the crowd’s size and temperament as well as the success of the night’s wages – were all positive. I was relieved. Too few patrons or an empty pocket would mean hours of complaints that I would have to absorb.
When Giuseppe was finally settled in, we exchanged a couple’s greeting: a kiss of the air, touch left, then right and left cheek again and I would ask him: "How are you?"
"Tired" he answered, as he did most nights, with a yawn and shake of his head. Then he carefully poured one small, crystal glass of Port and sat down to sip at it while I finished my work.
Every night, in the early hours of the morning, we perform this ritual.
Tonight, amidst the air of the night’s work that is now wafting across the room and back again, we reintroduce ourselves as though are strangers. Cigars and cigarettes, alcohol and sweat surround us until they are masked by the strong aroma rising from the freshly-cut sausage and freshly-picked onions, warm pasta and tomatoes on the table before me. The morning’s light grows stronger as we prepare to settle down to our meal, the only meal we will share this day.
Finishing his Port wine, he now moves as though he feels more comfortable and his leather boots brush across the floor – the folds crackling as he moves slowly toward me. Suddenly he stops. I stand silent in the shell of my space. Once again I hear shuffling as he moves in closer. Finally his leg pushes into my dress, collapsing the slips of crinoline hanging from my waist. A rush of cool air rises. I am aware that he is nearer to me now than he is most nights and I wonder why. Then, as Giuseppe leans across me, I realize it is not me he seeks. He grabs hold of the metal bowl on the shelf. I stop and hold myself tight. With a knife in one hand, tomato in the other, I stand perfectly still until his fumbling hands find the roughly-hewed bowl, with its years of scratches and dents. I relax my breath.
But the sudden clanging and clash of coins, his night’s earnings, startles me. I jump. My knife slips and the sharp end pricks me.
He turns and walks away.
I wonder how this cut, the length of my finger, can cause such pain. I want to cry out, but keep quiet. I try to keep it from dripping blood onto our food as I watch him move to the tall table – his table near the wall – where he will stand for hours, if I do not interrupt him. But he is content to settle into his spot to the right side of me, and so he mechanically lays his arms on the either side of his second glass of Port. From his roost, his pulpit, his corner of the room, he looks slowly from right to left, as he surveys the room as if searching for some clue of what I have been doing all day and into the early evening.
Suddenly, I feel his eyes on me. Panic sizzles up my spine, spreads across my shoulders and into my neck then darts down my arms before settling in my fingertips. I work to stay calm. I remind myself that he cannot see my hands down here, hidden below the surface of our work table. The blood still trickles and a pulsating tide rises up my arm. I blink back tears.
"Onions," I say, aware that I am revealing pain.
And with the onions now sliced and rinsed in a bowl of water, I place them on the plate of sausages and move it next to the bowl of pasta that stands ready, off to the side. I glance casually in his direction when I am hit with a look of awareness in his eyes. My eyes dart back. I reach to touch my hair and realize my mistake. My left braid, twirled around the circumference of my left ear and which is meant to be a mirror image of the right, is too long. I can feel it now touching my shoulder. He sees this, too, I am sure. This slight error, made while hurrying to dress earlier this evening, may reveal what he already knows, but he does not ask.
My hair had been undone; I offer him no explanation.
Suddenly sounds of voices can be heard through the glass. Some people are huddling near our windows in the street below. Giuseppe walks over to catch a glimpse. "Most likely people from the tavern," he says with a tone of disgust.
His comment surprises me. "What do you really want, Giuseppe?" I finally ask.
"I want to live a quiet life, free from intruders," he answers.
"Oh. Right," I say to this, his usual response.
He wants his life to be this way, but he does nothing to make it happen. He refuses to consider returning to Dansk, where our families live and where we met. He will not teach anymore and another line of work he will not consider.
Then he adds: "It is nice to hear these voices. These strands of voices that follow me are like magical clusters of stars," he says as if he were in a dream-induced trance. "They are a sign of the many good things to come for me – for us," he says.
I do not respond.
As the voices from the street fade, he settles back into his corner and stares at the love of his life – a fragile, hollow wooden viola that lay silently on the floor.
"What we will be having for our meal?" he asks.
"Same as always," I reply.
With that he lifts his arms from his table and lets out a sigh that fizzles into nothingness. He stands in place, rubbing his stomach in a circle, then scratches his head with his sore, calloused fingers.
I pluck a handkerchief from my pocket and squeeze it tightly in my hand.
"Never mind," he says, finally. "One day we’ll eat only fresh-slaughtered meats and fresh vegetables grown in our garden and prepared by our servants."
I nod, pick up the bowl and plate and place them on the low, square table that is covered with a soft, silk cloth.
"Okay. Let’s eat. Sit down."
And with this, we take our seats, Giuseppe opens the bottle of wine, and we dine in silence as I plan the final verses and stanzas of the song I know now he can never write and will have difficulty playing, but will know it by heart, from years of practice.
Copyright 2010 by Sue Kreke Rumbaugh
(After "the Music Lesson" by Vermeer)
I Moved Too Fast For The Pushcart
the old man thumbed at the pages
of the tattered notebook I had
presented to him on the older man
behind the counter's urging
he would read a few lines
and then shoot a look to the older
gent behind the counter and say,
"ooh" or "oh" or "hmmm"
he said, as he handed me back the notebook,
"don't ever let them make you
go back to school, kid, you already got it."
the old man behind the counter said,
"not bad shit for one of these juvenile
piss pots that run around here screwing
up the neighborhood."
"I need a drink, Red, so I'll see you later.
Give my love to Rose." and he started to
"I'd be happy to share one with you, Hank.
For giving me some tips on my writing."
I said with a nervousness that I had to suppress.
"Look, kid, your words are why I need a drink
and I only like to drink alone or with strange women.
Furthermore, that wasn't a tip on writing, it was about living."
"Hey, Chinaski, don't be an asshole to the kid. He
sweeps the store and the sidewalk for me just to get
used books. I gave him one of yours, even, you
mean son of a bitch, so don't just blow him off like that."
Red always sounded like he was from Brooklyn
when he was in a serious mood. I always liked that.
"Well, I'm not drinking out of a brown bag today and I am not
gonna drink in Musso and Frank's with a kid. So your out of luck."
Hank says in his matter of fact drone that sang "too bad for you"
in the background.
"Hollywood and Vine. The Frolic or the Fly, either one. I can introduce
you to the bartender at the Fly who's on right now. Thirty-ish, dirty blond,
just got out of Chowchilla. Your kind of lady."
I said this with the confidence of a man who never lied.
"Look, bub, how would you know about my kind of lady? You sizing me
up to roll me or something, you god damn punk? I'll cut you open with
my steel, man." he says as he spits at me right after, "Fucker."
"Fuck you, rummy, if I wanted to roll your shit stained ass, you wouldn't
see it coming and I wouldn't need to lie about a fucking drink to do it,
motherfucker!" I wanted to let him have it, but I didn't want Red to ban
me from the bookstore for life.
"Why don't you clean up and go to college and be an award winning poet,
you little fucking shit." Hank says sarcastically.
"Hey, both of you get the fuck out, I mean it. Assholes!" Red is red in the
face as he says this and grabs for something under the counter. He comes
out with a book and throws it at me. It's a collection of Rilke's Letters On Life.
I pick it up and back out the door. I flip Hank the bird. He snickers. As I leave
down the sidewalk, I can hear Red yelling, "You gotta go too, I'm sick of your
shit today, you pompous ass!"
I was mad enough to wait for Hank and smack him one. I didn't want to
beat him too bad, but I fucking wanted to make him eat every word.
Being an out of place teenager everywhere I went was hard enough.
No college. No awards. No fucking way. Fuck him.
I read Rilke's entire collection of letter's that afternoon before I hopped a
Greyhound back to San Bernardino so I could be at school in the morning.
It took my mind off the old asshole and his words. And it gave me an idea
for something to write in my English class.
Copyright 2010 by A. Razor
she thought of herself
as an ocean
and if she thought of me at all
as a drop
she made me think
among other things
of starry skies and their light
being drowned in her pale pale skin
of a full moon's orb
just above the horizon
reddened like blushing cheeks
and twice captured in the perfect roundness
of her pink pink nipples
afloat on the most perfect breasts
of my acquaintance
her French echoed North Africa
her Arabic Tunisia
the sound she coaxed from an 'ud
sad and lilting
let me realise the heartlessness
of my desire
when sated ignored
drops in the ocean do not
leave lasting ripples
tell me a bedtime story
... and he loved her very much
and even though he was older she
also loved him very much and when he
lay dying she stood over his death-bed
and cried so much that she drowned him
in her tears...
what a romantic story
being drowned is nor really all that
romantic as global warming and
melting ice sheets and glaciers will
soon enough make clear if nothing is
(or even can be) done to halt it
you are such a sad old cynic
sad enough to make me cry
don't cry too much
wait for the rising sea levels
to do the job
a physiotherapist's vibrator
allows its vibratory frequency
to be adjusted
(measured in Hertz)
now if you happen to be a man
with some illusions about yourself
or if you happen to be a woman
with some illusions about some man
this is what you do
- this little trick requires a bare biceps
and a bared male member
(not necessarily your own) -
get hold of such a vibrator
and set it to resonate at about a hundred Hertz
and place it on bare skin
at the very top of the biceps of one of your arms
and place the index finger of that arm's hand
(gently) on the glans of the bare penis
held at readiness
now close your eyes
and throw the switch on the vibrator
to turn it on
as long as your eyes are kept firmly closed
the vibrations subtly agitating the top of your biceps
will create an illusion of stretching your elbow
and that in turn
will result in the sensation of that what
your finger so gingerly touches
is growing longer and longer
Copyright 2010 by Levi Wagenmaker
Lets say you, even though you know I
mean I, found this ring in your mother’s
closet in a shoe box of what mattered:
letters from the man she couldn’t marry,
pale blue ink on blue paper, bluesy
letters. Papers from the dog she would
never not long for. Then you see the ring,
Clara, etched on the 18 K gold. Do you
feel you’ve been shaken by a ghost tho
the name’s not familiar? Or maybe you
ask every living relative, most who won’t
be for long: Who is Clara? If I were you,
I’d write poems with that title, put the ring
in a safe deposit box. What would you
think, before a trip to Peru, getting a
letter that Clara Lazarus died without a
will? Would you try to track her down,
you with the ring in your drawer or lock
box? Go to the deaths in Wilmington
where all the Lazaruses lived? Let’s say
you are leaving for Paris, not Peru and
the lawyers want you to sign. Wouldn’t
you like some family history? Something
about this woman whose ring in a room
you used to sleep in mystifies? In testate.
They will tell you it takes so long,
how they will search Europe for more
relatives. Wouldn’t you want to
know more about this Clara whose
finger is close to the size of your own?
The family tree they wrap the check in is a
mess. Jesus, you knew more not even
hearing of Clara. When you go to
slide on the ring, as if to enter her life the
only way you can, the ring is missing.
On the one you thought it was, nothing is
etched inside. After months of re-checking
jewel boxes, banks, would you begin
to think her name could have dissolved?
If it had slid thru your fingers, would
you think it is elusive as a soul?
Copyright 2010 by Lyn Lifshin
The Girl Who Sits on Her Feet
Married, she misses fucking.
At nineteen she waltzed
through sheets, smoked
pot, let it spiral up
to the ceiling, pure white.
His lust was graceful,
skin, smooth, red and
blue dragon inked
Now he’s clumsy.
herself to sleep.
Eats onions and squash,
pan-fried in butter.
He is winter
through her veins,
fingers frost, fumble
with buttons. Chest hairs,
stretch marks. The television
glows blue. Blankets
tangle their feet.
Blue Las Vegas
only blue against
shades of beige skyline
until the West and East
coast strangers collide
if Las Vegas is alive
its heart only throbs
You are it
blue dyed hair
for the crowd’s face
You only alive on stage
each note a penny
dropped into the slot
on fire after dark
each note a penny a memory
a lever pull
almost a win
but always a song
but black is gray
red is pink
and You are always one
closer to the jackpot
moving to the next
and the same
Copyright 2010 by Alison Wilkins
CNN: O’HARE CONCOURSE, MARRIOTT LOBBY
Then up ten flights, fifteen, it’s vertigo,
the hotel hallway falls away from me.
I tell myself I know what’s going on.
ClichÈ, I tell myself, an old, old trick,
from every scary movie ever made.
That steadies the nerves. But nevertheless
the rows of doorways tunnel off, reverse
zoom, narrower, narrower,
receding yet unending,
like brackets within brackets, like
some cruel trig formula,
retardant carpet, like… like I’ve seen
in half a hundred flicks by now, with spooks
and no way out. Flashback, I tell myself.
Steadies the nerves.
I mean, I’ve got the bell-boy, but who’s he?
If I should start to fall, he’s not
his brother’s catcher. Simple math,
a buck a bag, that’s what I am to him.
If I go down and can’t get up, if I’m
another victim, only, photographed
before the kill (the final cut…), if I
turn up in shroomy black and white, unknown
statistic, naked, hooded, yoked and bruised --
this bell-hop wouldn’t wonder, much.
He’d only ask, what show was that?
Some news thing, like? Iraq, Guantanamo?
He’s seen the apparition many times,
some traveler singled out
and hammered, shrunk,
Copyright 2010 by John Domini
Yes, she is named after the pasta.
Long version – it’s what her parents ate at Tortellini’s pre-conception dinner. There were also roses, but there already was an Aunt Rose.
Short version – by the time Tortellini was born, that story is all that is left of her father.
As she grow up, Tortellini turns beautiful. Her mother pales and dies, and when Tortellini is 18, she finds that she needs a home.
Tortellini will meet many men. Each one will look, or not look, like her father.
The men will find Tortellini delicious. Her buttery blonde hair, the blueberry of her eyes.
They will joke Tortellini. If I warm you, they will say, will you soften to my touch?
Tortellini has improved over the years. Now she just sneers.
Till Michael. She likes his normal name. Normal enough to balance hers. And she likes his non-jokey way. Besides, he smiles just like the photo father her mother kept next to the lamp.
Long version – Michael will ask her to marry, offer her a home. He will promise never to leave. Tortellini will think this is a good thing, but it’s not. If Tortellini’s father had stayed, there would be hidden-mistress years and tears behind her mother’s bedroom door. Just like if Michael stays, there will be years of drinking and a right-arm hammer that finally comes out. Of course, this is only if Tortellini decides to get married.
Short version – she does.
Copyright 2010 by Francine Witte
Eve on Wilshire
my dear, what is the matter? i know awakening
5,000 miles away from la ville-lumière amidst
the barbaric splendor of palm trees and
neon signs, greeted with slack-jawed stares
of a fully-cloaked judgemental balzac and his
his encephalitic german companions would jar
even the most sophisticated of women... ahh...
yes, here is the rub - upon closer inspection
you are still in the early flower of your youth
as in those first glorious days of eden
before you were introduced to the wisdom
of the serpent and before the flaming sword
of restriction smote you. hmmm, well, let's
drop the victorian pretense, shall we... take
a look around you, girlfriend! you're young,
you're hot, and you're in a place where
with the right plastic surgeon, you'll never
have to worry about growing old, or, in
your case, patinaed, or rusted out... so,
stop hiding from the truth of who you are,
open your eyes, put down your arms,
step off that pedestal, and then, go shake
that bronze money-maker... this is, after all,
the 21 century,.. vous êtes à L.A., chéri!
Copyright 2009 by M. Lecrivain
When the rain comes
they hide their heads.
They are not
Copyright 2010 by Jayne Lyn Stahl
A Bicycle Review Serialization:
Kosty the Ghostwriter, A Story from Grub Street, New York (Conclusion)
He remained, as ever, a fixture in my office. Nay—if that were possible—he became still more of a fixture than before. What was to be done? As he would do nothing for me, why should he stay there? In plain fact, he had now become a millstone to me, not only useless as a necklace, but too afflictive to bear. Yet I was sorry for him. I speak less than truth when I say that, on his own account, he occasioned much uneasiness. If he would but have named a single relative or friend, I would instantly have written and urged their taking the poor fellow away to some convenient retreat. But he seemed alone, absolutely alone in the universe--a bit of wreck in our big city. At length, necessities connected with my business tyrannized over all other considerations. Decently as I could, I told Kosty that in six days’ time he must unconditionally leave the office. I warned him to take measures, in the interval, for procuring some other abode. I offered to assist him in this endeavorendeavour, if he himself would but take the first step towards a removal. "And when you finally quit me, Kosty," added I, "I shall see that you go not away entirely unprovided. Six days from this hour, remember."
At the expiration of that period, I peeped behind the screen, and lo! Kosty was still there. I buttoned up my coat, balanced myself; advanced slowly towards him, touched his shoulder, and said, "The time has come; you must quit this place; I am sorry for you; here is money; but you must go."
"I would prefer not," he replied, with his back still towards me.
He remained silent.
Now I had an unbounded confidence in this man’s common honesty. He had frequently restored to me sixpences and shillings carelessly dropped upon the floor, for I am apt to be very reckless in such shirt-button affairs. The proceeding then which followed will not be deemed extraordinary.
"My dear Kosty," said I, "I owe you twelve hundred dollars on account; here are thirty-two hundred; the odd two grand are yours. Will you take it?" and I handed the bills towards him.
But he made no motion.
"I will leave them here then," putting them under a weight on the table between us. Then taking my hat and cane and going to the door I tranquilly turned and added, "After you have removed your things from these offices, Kosty, you will of course lock the door—since every one is now gone for the day but you—and if you please, slip your key underneath the mat, so that I may have it in the morning. I shall not see you again; so good-bye to you. If hereafter in your new workplace I can be of any service to you, do not fail to advise me by letter. Good-bye, dear Kosty, and fare you well."
But he answered not a word. Like the last column of some ruined temple, he remained standing mute and solitary in the middle of the otherwise deserted room.
As I walked home in a pensive mood, my vanity got the better of my pity. I could not but highly plume myself on my masterly management in getting rid of Kosty. Masterly I call it and as such must vappear to any dispassionate thinker. The beauty of my procedure seemed to consist in its perfect quietness. There was no vulgar bullying, no bravado of any sort, no choleric hectoring, and striding to and fro across the apartment, jerking out vehement commands for Kosty to bundle himself off with his beggarly traps. Nothing of the kind. Without loudly bidding Kosty depart—as an inferior genius might have done—I assumed the ground that depart he must and upon that assumption built all I had to say. The more I thought over my procedure, the more I was charmed with it. Nevertheless, next morning, upon awakening, I had my doubts, as I had somehow slept off the fumes of vanity. One of the coolest and wisest hours a man has comes just after he awakes in the morning. My procedure seemed as sagacious as ever, but only in theory. How it would prove in practice. There was the rub. It was truly a beautiful thought to have assumed Kosty’s departure on his own volition; but, after all, that assumption was simply my own and none of Kosty’s. The great point was not whether I had assumed that he would quit me, but whether he would prefer so to do. He was more a man of preferences than assumptions.
After breakfast, I walked downtown, arguing the probabilities pro and con. One moment I thought it would prove a miserable failure, and Kosty would be found alive at my office as usual; the next moment it seemed certain that I should see his chair empty. And so I kept veering about. At the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street, I saw quite an excited group of people standing in earnest conversation.
"I’ll take odds he doesn’t," said a voice as I passed.
"Doesn’t go? Done!" said I, "put up your money."
I was instinctively putting my hand in my pocket to produce my own, when I remembered that this was an election day. The words I had overheard bore no reference to Kosty, contrary to my original impression, but to the success or non-success of some candidate for the mayoralty. In my obsessed mind, I had, as it were, imagined that all Broadway shared in my excitement and were debating the same question with me. I passed on, very thankful that the uproar of the street screened my momentary absent-mindedness.
As I had intended, I was earlier than usual at my office door. I stood listening for a moment. All was still. He must be gone. I tried the knob. The door was locked. Yes, my procedure had worked to a charm; he indeed must be vanished. Yet a certain melancholy mixed with this: I was almost sorry for my brilliant success. I was fumbling under the door mat for the key, which Kosty was to have left there for me, when accidentally my knee knocked against a panel, producing a summoning sound, and in response a voice came to me from within: "Not yet; I am occupied."
Shit, it was Kosty. I was thunderstruck. For an instant I stood like the man who, pipe in mouth, was killed one cloudless afternoon long ago in Virginia by summer lightning; at his own warm open window he was killed, and remained leaning out there upon the dreamy afternoon, till some one touched him, when he fell.
"Not gone!" I murmured at last. But again obeying that wondrous ascendancy which the inscrutable ghostwriter had over me, and from which ascendancy, for all my chafing, I could not completely escape. I slowly went down stairs and out into the street and, while walking round the block, considered what I should next do in this unheard-of perplexity. Turn the man out by violent thrusting I could not; to drive him away by calling him obscene names would not do; calling in the police was an unpleasant idea; and yet, permit him to enjoy his cadaverous triumph over me. This too I could not think of. What was to be done? Or, if nothing could be done, was there any thing further that I could assume in the matter? Yes, as before I had prospectively assumed that Kosty would depart, so now I might retrospectively assume that departed he was. In the legitimate carrying out of this assumption, I might enter my office in a great hurry, and pretending not to see Kosty at all, walk straight against him as if he were air. Such a proceeding would in a singular degree have the appearance of a home-thrust. It was hardly possible that Kosty could withstand such an application of the doctrine of assumptions. But upon second thoughts the success of the plan seemed rather dubious. I resolved to argue the matter over with him again.
"Kosty," said I, entering the office, with a quietly severe expression, "I am seriously displeased. I am pained, Kosty. I had thought better of you. I had imagined you of such a gentlemanly organization, that in any delicate dilemma a slight hint would suffice—in short, an assumption. But it appears I am deceived. Why," I added, unaffectedly starting, "you have not even touched that money yet," pointing to it, just where I had left it the evening previous.
He answered nothing.
"Will you, or will you not, quit me?" I now demanded in a sudden passion, advancing close to him.
"I would prefer not to quit you," he replied, gently emphasizing the not.
"What earthly right have you to stay here? Do you pay any rent? Do you pay my taxes? Or is this property yours?"
He answered nothing.
"Are you ready to go on and write now? Are your eyes recovered? Could you write a small press release for me this morning? Or help examine a few lines written by Turkey? Or step round to the post-office? In a word, will you do any thing at all, to give a coloringcolouring to your refusal to depart the premises? A writer who does not regularly write is an imposterimpostor."
He silently retired into his hermitage, a ghost who would ghost no more.
I was now in such a state of nervous resentment that I thought it but prudent to check myself at present from further demonstrations. Kosty and I were alone. I remembered the tragedy of the unfortunate Adams and the still more unfortunate Colt in the solitary office of the latter; and how poor Colt, being dreadfully incensed by Adams, and imprudently permitting himself to get wildly excited, was at unawares hurried into his fatal act—an act which certainly no man could possibly deplore more than the actor himself. Often it had occurred to me in my ponderings upon the subject, that had that altercation taken place in the public street, or at a private residence, it would not have terminated as it did. It was the circumstance of being alone in a solitary office, up stairs, of a building entirely unhallowed by humanizing domestic associations—an uncarpeted office, doubtless, of a dusty, haggard sort of appearance. This it must have been, which greatly helped to enhance the irritable desperation of the hapless Colt.
But when this old Adam of resentment rose in me and tempted me concerning Kosty, I grappled him and threw him. How? Why, simply by recalling the divine injunction: "A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another." Yes, this it was that saved me. Aside from higher considerations, charity often operates as a vastly wise and prudent principle—a great safeguard to its possessor. Men have committed murder for jealousy’s sake, and anger’s sake, and hatred’s sake, and selfishness’ sake, and spiritual pride’s sake; but no man that ever I heard of, ever committed a diabolical murder for sweet charity’s sake. Mere self-interest, then, if no better motive can be enlisted, should, especially with high-tempered men, prompt all beings to charity and philanthropy. At any rate, upon the occasion in question, I strove to drown my exasperated feelings towards the ghostwriter by benevolently construing his conduct. Poor fellow, poor fellow! thought I, he don’t didn’t mean any thing; and besides, he has seen hard times, and ought to be indulged.
I endeavoredendeavoured also immediately to occupy myself, and at the same time to comfort my despondency. I tried to fancy that in the course of the morning, at such time as might prove agreeable to him, Kosty, of his own free accord, would emerge from his hermitage, and take up some decided line of march in the direction of the door. But no. Half-past twelve o’clock came. Turkey began to glow in the face, overturn his keyboard, and become generally obstreperous; Nippers abated down into quietude and courtesy; Ginger Nut munched his noon apple; and Kosty remained standing at his window in one of his profoundest dead-wall reveries. Will it be credited? Ought I to acknowledge it? That afternoon I left the office without saying one further word to him.
Some days now passed, during which, at leisure intervals I looked a little into such how-to treatises as "Edwards on the Will," and "Priestley on Necessity." Under the circumstances, those books induced a salutary feeling. Gradually I slid into the persuasion that these troubles of mine touching the ghostwriter had been all predestined from eternity and that Kosty was billeted upon me for some mysterious purpose of an all-wise Providence, which it was not for a mere mortal like me to fathom. Yes, Kosty, stay there behind your screen, thought I. I shall persecute you no more. You are harmless and noiseless as any of these old chairs. In short, I never feel so private as when I know you are here. At least I see it, I feel it; I penetrate to the predestined purpose of my life. I am content. Others may have loftier parts to enact; but my mission in this world, Kosty, is to furnish you with office-room for such period as you may see fit to remain.
I believe that this wise and blessed frame of mind would have continued with me, had it not been for the unsolicited and uncharitable remarks obtruded upon me by my professional friends who visited the rooms. But thus it often is that the constant friction of illiberal minds wears out at last the best resolves of the more generous. Though to be sure, when I reflected upon it, it was not strange that people entering my office should be struck by the peculiar aspect of an unaccountable associate, and so be tempted to throw out some sinister observations concerning him. Sometimes a client having business with me, and calling at my office, and finding no one but the ghostwriter there, would undertake to obtain some sort of precise information from him touching my whereabouts. Nonetheless, without heeding his idle talk, Kosty would remain standing immovable in the middle of the room. So after contemplating him in that position for a time, the client would depart, no wiser than he came.
At last I was made aware that, all through the circle of my professional acquaintance, a whisper of wonder was running round, having reference to the strange creature I kept at my office. This worried me very much. And as the idea came upon me of his possibly turning out a long-lived man who keep occupying my chambers and denying my authority, as well as perplexing my visitors and scandalizing my professional reputation, and casting a general gloom over the premises. Keeping soul and body together to the last upon his savings (for doubtless he spent but half a dime a day), he might in the end perhaps outlive me and claim possession of my office by right of his perpetual occupancy. As all these dark anticipations crowded upon me more and more, and my friends continually intruded their relentless remarks upon the apparition in my room, a great change was wrought in me. I resolved to gather all my faculties together, and forever rid me of this intolerable incubus.
Before revolving any complicated project, however, adapted to this end, I first simply suggested to Kosty the propriety of his permanent departure. In a calm and serious tone, I commended the idea to his careful and mature consideration. But having taken three days to meditate upon it, he apprised me that his original determination remained the same--in short, that he still preferred to abide with me.
What shall I do? I now said to myself, buttoning up my coat to the last button. What shall I do? What ought I to do? What does conscience say I should do with this man, or rather this ghost of mine. Rid myself of him, I must; go, he shall. But how? You will not thrust him, the poor, pale, passive mortal; you will not thrust such a helpless creature out of your door? You will not dishonordishonour yourself by such cruelty? No, I will not; I cannot do that. Rather would I let him live and die here, and then mason up his remains in the wall. What then will you do? For all your coaxing, he will not budge. Bribes he leaves under your own paperweight on your table; in short, it is quite plain that he prefers to cling to you.
Then something severe, something unusual must be done. What! Surely you will not have him collared by a constable and commit his innocent pallor to the common jail? And upon what ground could you procure such a thing to be done? A vagrant, is he? What! He a vagrant, a wanderer, who refuses to budge? It is because he will not be a vagrant, then, that you seek to count him as a vagrant. That is too absurd. No visible means of support-- there I have him. Wrong again, for indubitably he does support himself, and that is the only unanswerable proof that any man can show of his possessing the means so to do. No more then. Since he will not quit me, I must quit him. What would be a radical solution to separating this ghost from myself? I will change my offices; I will move elsewhere and give him fair notice. If I find him on my new premises I will then proceed against him as a common trespasser.
Acting accordingly, next day I thus addressed him: "I find these chambers too far from my home; the downtown air is unwholesome. In a word, I propose to remove my offices next week across the river to Brooklyn and shall no longer require your services. I tell you this now in order that you may seek another place."
He made no reply, and nothing more was said.
On the appointed day I engaged carts and men, proceeded to my old office. Having but little furniture, I saw that every thing was removed in a few hours. Throughout, my ghost remained standing behind the screen, which I directed to be removed the last thing. It was withdrawn; and being folded up like a huge folio, left him the motionless occupant of a naked room. I stood in the entry watching him a moment, while something from within me upbraided me.
I re-entered, with my hand in my pocket—and—and my heart in my mouth. "Good-bye, Kosty; I am going—good-bye, and God some way bless you; and take that," slipping something in his hand. But it dropped upon the floor, and then, strange to say, I tore myself from him whom I had so longed to be rid of.
Established in my new quarters, for a day or two I kept the door locked, and started at every footfall in the passageways. When I returned to my rooms after any little absence, I would pause at the threshold for an instant, and attentively listen, before applying my key. But these fears were needless. Kosty never came near me.
I thought all was going well, when a perturbed looking stranger visited me, inquiring whether I was the person who had recently occupied rooms at No. 23 Park Row. Full of forebodings, I replied that I was.
"Then sir," said the stranger, who identified himself as a lawyer, "you are responsible for the man you left there. He refuses to do anything; he says he prefers not to; and he refuses to quit the premises."
"I am very sorry, sir," said I, with assumed tranquillity, but an inward tremor, "but, really, the man you allude to is nothing to me. Not a relation or apprentice of mine, you should not hold me responsible for him."
"In mercy’s name, who is he?"
"I certainly cannot inform you. I know nothing about him. Formerly I employed him as a ghost; but he has done nothing for me now for some time past."
"I shall settle him then, good morning, sir."
Several days passed, and I heard nothing more; and though I often felt a charitable prompting to call at the place and see poor Kosty, yet a certain squeamishness of I know not what withheld me.
All is over with him, by this time, thought I at last, when through another week no further intelligence reached me. But coming to my room the day after, I found several persons waiting at my door in a high state of nervous excitement.
"That’s the man; here he comes," cried the foremost one, whom I recognized as the lawyer who had previously called upon me alone.
"You must take him away, sir, at once," cried a portly person among them, advancing upon me, and whom I knew to be the landlord of No. 23 Park Row. "These gentlemen, my tenants, cannot stand it any longer; Mr. B.," pointing to the lawyer, "has turned him out of his room. He now persists in haunting the building generally, sitting upon the banisters of the stairs by day, and sleeping in the entry by night. Everybody is concerned; clients are leaving the offices; some fears are entertained by a mob. Something you must do and that without delay."
Aghast at this torrent, I fell back before it and would fain have locked myself in my new quarters. In vain I persisted that Kosty was nothing to me—no more than to any one else. I protested in vain, as I was the last person known to have anything to do with him; and they held me to the terrible account. Fearful then of being exposed in the papers (as one person present obscurely threatened), I considered the matter and at length said that if the lawyer would give me a confidential interview with the ghostwriter, in his (the lawyer’s) own room. I would that afternoon strive my best to rid them of the nuisance they complained of.
Going up stairs to my old haunt, there was Kosty silently sitting upon the banister at the landing.
"What are you doing here, Kosty?" said I.
"Sitting upon the banister," he mildly replied.
I motioned him into the lawyer’s room, who then left us.
"Kosty," said I, "are you aware that you are the cause of great tribulation to me, by persisting in occupying the entry after being dismissed from the office?"
"Now one of two things must take place. Either you must do something, or something must be done to you. Now what sort of business would you like to engage in? Would you like to re-engage in ghostwriting for some one else?"
"No; I would prefer not to make any change."
"Would you like a clerkship in a dry-goods store?"
"There is too much confinement about that. No, I would not like a clerkship; but I am not particular."
"Too much confinement," I cried, "why you keep yourself confined all the time!"
"I would prefer not to take a clerkship," he rejoined, as if to settle that little item at once.
"How would a bar-tender’s business suit you? There is no trying of the eyesight in that."
"I would not like it at all; though, as I said before, I am not particular."
His unwonted wordiness inspirited me. I returned to the charge.
"Well then, would you like to be a garbagemangarbage man, like Nipper’s father, or to travel through the country collecting bills for the merchants? That last would improve your health."
"No, I would prefer to be doing something else."
"How then would going as a companion to Europe, to entertain some young gentleman with your conversation? How would that suit you?"
"Not at all. It does not strike me that there is any thing definite about that. I like to be stationary. But I am not particular."
"Stationary you shall be then," I cried, now losing all patience, and for the first time in all my exasperating connection with him fairly flying into a passion. "If you do not go away from these premises before night, I shall feel bound—indeed I am bound—to—to—to quit the premises myself!" I rather absurdly concluded, knowing not with what possible threat to try to frighten his immobility into compliance. Despairing of all further efforts, I was precipitately leaving him, when a final thought occurred to me, one that had not been wholly unindulged before.
"Kosty," said I, in the kindest tone I could assume under such exciting circumstances, "will you go home with me now—not to my office, but my dwelling—and remain there till we can conclude upon some convenient arrangement for you at our leisure? Your name is so close to mine that the postman can deliver your mail without my leaving any visible signs. Come, let us start now, right away. Inseparable we will continue to be."
"No: at present I would prefer not to make any change at all. Your name is not mine."
I answered nothing; but effectually dodging every one by the suddenness and rapidity of my flight, rushed from the building, ran down Park Row towards Broadway, and jumping into the first omnibus was soon removed from pursuit. As soon as tranquillity returned I distinctly perceived that I had now done all that I possibly could, both in respect to the demands of the landlord and his tenants, and with regard to my own desire and sense of duty, to benefit Kosty, and shield him from rude persecution. I now strove to be entirely carefree and quiescent; and my conscience justified me in the attempt; though indeed it was not so successful as I could have wished. So fearful was I of being again hunted out by the incensed landlord and his exasperated tenants, that, surrendering my business to Nippers, for a few days I drove about the upper part of Manhattan and through the suburbs, in my station wagon; crossed over to Jersey City and Hoboken, and paid fugitive visits to Astoria and the Rockaways. In truth, I almost lived in my station wagon for the time.
When again I entered my office, lo, a note from the landlord lay upon the desk. I opened it with trembling hands. It informed me that the writer had sent for the police and had Kosty removed to the Tombs as a vagrant. Moreover, since I knew more about him than any one else, he wished me to appear at that place and make a suitable statement of the facts. These tidings had a conflicting effect upon me. At first I was indignant, but at last almost approved. The landlord’s energetic, summary disposition had led him to adopt a procedure which I do not think I would have decided upon myself; and yet as a last resort, under such peculiar circumstances, it seemed the only appropriate plan.
As I afterwards learned, the poor ghostwriter, when told that he must be conducted to the Tombs, offered not the slightest obstacle, but in his pale unmoving way, silently acquiesced. Some of the compassionate and curious bystanders joined the party; and headed by one of the constables arm in arm with Kosty, the silent procession filed its way through all the noise, and heat, and joy of the roaring downtown thoroughfares at noon.
The same day that I received the note I went to the Tombs, or to speak more properly, the Halls of Justice. Seeking the right officer, I stated the purpose of my call, and was informed that the individual I described was indeed within. I then assured the functionary that Kosty was a perfectly honest man deserving compassion, however unaccountably eccentric. I narrated all I knew and closed by suggesting the idea of letting him remain in as indulgent confinement as possible till something less harsh might be done, though indeed I hardly knew what. At all events, if nothing else could be decided upon, the alms-house must receive him. I then begged to have an interview.
Being under no disgraceful charge, and quite serene and harmless in all his ways, he had been permitted to wander freely about the prison, and especially in the enclosed grass-platted yards thereof. And so I found him there, standing all alone in the quietest of the yards, his face towards a high wall, while all around, from the narrow slits of the jail windows, I thought I saw peering out upon him the eyes of murderers and thieves.
"I know you," he said, without looking round, "and I have nothing to say to you."
"It was not I that brought you here, Kosty," said I, keenly pained at his implied suspicion. "And to you, this should not be so vile a place. Nothing reproachful attaches to you by being here. And see, it is not so sad a place as one might think. Look, there is the sky, and here is the grass."
"I know where I am," he replied, but would say nothing more, and so I left him.
As I entered the corridor again, a broad meat-like man in an apron accosted me. Jerking his thumb over his shoulder he said, "Is that your friend?"
"Does he want to starve? If he does, let him live on the prison fare, that’s all."
"Who are you?" asked I, not knowing what to make of such an unofficially speaking person in such a place.
"I am the grubman. Such gentlemen who have friends here hire me to provide them with something good to eat."
"Is this so?" said I, turning to the turnkey.
He said it was.
"Well then," said I, slipping some silver into the grubman’s hands (for so they called him). "I want you to give particular attention to my friend there; let him have the best dinner you can get. And you must be as polite to him as possible."
"Introduce me, will you?" said the grubman, looking at me with an expression which seem to say he was all impatience for an opportunity to give a specimen of his breeding.
Thinking it would prove of Kosty’s benefit, I acquiesced. Asking the grub-man his name, I went up with him to Kosty.
"Kosty, this is Mr. Cutlets; you will find him very useful to you."
"Your sarvant, sir, your sarvant," said the grubman, making a low salutation behind his apron. "Hope you find it pleasant here, sir—spacious grounds, cool apartments. Sir, I hope you’ll stay with us some time, try to make it agreeable. May Mrs. Cutlets and I have the pleasure of your company to dinner, sir, in Mrs. Cutlets’ private room?"
"I prefer not to dine today," said Kosty, turning away. "It would disagree with me; I am unused to dinners." So saying he slowly moved to the other side of the enclosure, and took up a position fronting another dead wall.
"How’s this?" said the grubman, addressing me with a stare of astonishment. "He’s odd, ain’t he?"
"I think he is a little deranged," said I, sadly.
"Deranged? Deranged is it? Well now, upon my word, I thought that friend of yours was a gentleman forger. They’re always pale and genteel-like, them forgers. I can’t help pity ‘em—can’t help it, sir. Did you know Monroe Edwards?" he added touchingly, and paused. Then, laying his hand pityingly on my shoulder, sighed, "He died of consumption at Sing-Sing. So you weren’t acquainted with Monroe?"
"No, I was never socially acquainted with any forgers. But I cannot stop longer. Look to my friend yonder. You will not lose by it. I will see you again."
Some few days after this, I again obtained admission to the Tombs, and went through the corridors in quest of Kosty; but without finding him.
"I saw him coming from his cell not long ago," said a turnkey, "may be he’s gone to loiter in the yards."
So I went in that direction.
"Are you looking for the silent man?" said another turnkey passing me. "Yonder he lies, sleeping in the yard there. ‘Tis not twenty minutes since I saw him lie down."
The yard was entirely quiet. It was not accessible to the common prisoners. The surrounding walls of amazing thickness kept off all sounds behind them. The Egyptian character of the masonry weighed upon me with its gloom. But a soft imprisoned turf grew under foot. The heart of the eternal pyramids, it seemed, wherein, by some strange magic, through the clefts, grass seed dropped by birds had sprung.
Strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones, I saw the wasted Kosty who had become part of myself. But nothing stirred. I paused; then went close up to him; stooped over, and saw that his dim eyes were open. Otherwise, he seemed profoundly sleeping. Something prompted me to touch him. I felt his hand, now cold, when a tingling shiver ran up my arm and down my spine to my feet.
The round face of the grub-man peered upon me now. "His dinner is ready. Won’t he dine today, either? Or does he live without dining?"
"Lives without dining," said I, and closed the eyes.
"Eh! He’s asleep, ain’t he?"
"With kings and counsellors," murmured I.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There would seem little need for proceeding further in this history. Imagination will readily supply the meagre recital of poor Kosty's interment. But before parting with the reader, let me say, that if this little narrative has sufficiently interested him, to awaken curiosity as to who Kosty was, and what manner of life he led prior to the present narrator’s making his acquaintance, I can only reply that in such curiosity I fully share, though I am wholly unable to gratify it. Yet here I hardly know whether I should divulge one little item of rumorrumour, which came to my ear a few months after the ghostwriter’s passing. Upon what basis it rested, I could never ascertain; and hence, how true it is I cannot now tell. But inasmuch as this vague report has not been without a certain strange suggestive interest to me, however sad, it may prove the same with some others; and so I will briefly mention it. The report was this: that Kosty had been the chief editor at a New York book publisher, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in ownership, illustrating the familiar truth that commercial publishers terminate everyone too early. When I think over this rumorrumour, I cannot adequately express the emotions that seize me. Book publishing! Does it not sound like the work of dead men? For a person by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling manuscripts and rejecting most of them? For by the cartload they are annually burned. And editors are regularly fired?
Sometimes from out of the folded paper the pale clerk takes a small round ring. The finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave. A bank-note sent in swiftest charity: he whom it would relieve neither eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died without hope; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death.
Ah Kosty! Ah humanity!
Copyright 2010 By Richard Kostelanetz
EDITED AND CURATED BY J DE SALVO AND KAITLIN ANDERSON