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Howdy, or, The Rabbit Box

[1] This is a greeting I picked up when I was younger, a carry-over from a desire to be a cowboy.2

2 Documented in old family films, my sister3 had dressed me up in a summer dress, floppy hat, and cowboy boots. My response to my mother’s off-camera question of And what are you? I’m a cowboy.

4 My mother, discovering the travesty, went out, and bought a second blue-and-white parakeet, replacing the old one in hopes of sparing my sister.7 When my sister arrived home, she looked into the cage at the duplicate parakeet and asked, Where is my bird?8 I believe the bird’s name was Sky. Where is my Sky?

5 My mother and father had brought us up from Baltimore shortly after my brother9 and I were born.10 My sister is the only one of us who remembers the something of the apartment, or studio, or townhouse, or row house. There were checkerboard floors. There was a hanging bed. There was a turtle who wandered outside.11 My mother and father fixed it up one year, the year my father was mugged on Christmas,12 when he still talked to his father.13

6 My father was cursed with cats. When he was young, he had a dog,17 and we had

7 Hayley died when my father was away one year. Actually, she grew sick. My mother dragged her to the car and loaded me and my brother into the backseat. We               . We drove to the Humane Society. On the way back, there was just a colorful Mexican blanket in the back.22 with a lump underneath There was a new garden in the backyard shortly after.23 

10 See date above.

11 Our whatever had a balcony, my sister tells me.

12 My father tells me this story on occasion. My mother is inside with gifts and groceries. My father is by the car. A man approaches him and draws (what he draws, I don’t remember- maybe he drew a pretty picture). My father had heard about several muggings where the victim had been killed.26 My father draws a box cutter24 and slips on a patch of ice. The man takes his change.27

14 I: 5:32 AM. My brother: 7:06 AM.282011; 2011;

16 11th September, 1990.

17 Hope, whose proof of existence now lies in the chewed corners of one of my father’s books.29 She passed away shortly after my father left for college and before he learned of the coming draft. That is to say, as my father saw Vietnam coming, he lost Hope. 

18 See, left thigh.

21 There are numerous animals behind the small apartment where my father now lives. He often sits outside and feeds scraps and peanuts to the squirrels, the birds, the cats,                   , the rabbits. He tells me often that there is nothing cuter than a groundhog baby. Just balls of fur, he says.30 I hope

22 My mother, when she was younger, traveled throughout Mexico. She tells me that she and her sister, young, blonde Americans, often experienced rude hands from crowds of men. In the states, my mother found herself drawn to Arizona. Once there, she fell in love with                named              and then with the land. She flew back home to announce to her family that she was moving there for good. Something happened when she came back (sickness or debt or family) and she could no longer return. On the trip to say she was leaving, she became trapped. She met my father shortly after.

23 Manner in which I would like to be buried. Also fitting:

25 My brother was always an artist.32 Growing up, however, the desire to design video games started with a love of video games.33 It was what we had. We played ever-more-complex-and-violent titles.34 Our bonding had nothing to do with talking. We sat and played videogames. When we bond today, we work out,35 we drive,36 we play video games. We are not talking brothers.37

30 The last time I saw him,                  . It was a cookout before I went back for college. I had not been home in five months38and would be home again for three more. My brother was there, and my sister and a boy who is awfully kind to her.38 My father made me an avocado sandwich and cooked ham and bacon for the rest.39 It was hot. I wish I could

32 When looking for schools, he applied for MICA. He ended up getting into the top handful of portfolios, and they wanted him badly. He didn’t want to go to an art school, however. I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without seeing a pair of combat boots, he said.

36 2001 Jeep Cherokee.

37 During one drive, I turned to my brother and said, I’m trying to figure out which way of living is right. With me, I am much more open about things. I wear my heart on my sleeve. With you, you keep things to yourself, never bothered. Which way do you think is right? Looking ahead at the light, my brother said, I guess we’ll find out in eighty years.

47 I do not think the day itself had much relevance, though I do remember wanting to mention it to a girl.50like the work. I’m used to

51 My father began working in a theatre when I was in middle school. This was after along series of bad luck. The economy did not do well and my father was unlucky, and unluckier, and unluckier, and eventually ended up as a grounds keeper at a college. He started helping out in the theatre. Then they discovered that the grounds keeper helping out was an artist. One day, he showed them the spirit of red. After that, he made their sets for them.                         Time spent with my father was time spent working in an old theatre. The actors never could. I typically had a bias against actors.55

52 There is currently an event at the theatre called the National Music Festival. It runs for two weeks straight. At all hours of the day, classical music fills the theatre, and the lobbies, and the space outdoors. If we kept the theatre open, I’m sure the musicians would play all night. We usually act as chaperons to the theatre, sticking around late into the night until no one is left. My friend suggested something for when there is nothing to do but to wait for the musicians to finish. He suggested going up onto the catwalk above the stage and just sitting, listening. He said it was nice.56

58 Howdy.

A Reflection: Father and Daughter

My father and I clear the throats of mason jars
before they can clear our places from the kitchen.
We carry devices to the counter.
Father: a camera like an injured bird,
gentled in two curled hands.
Daughter: a tea kettle rumbled quiet,
the morning warble lingers.

We hold gentle these heartless objects
as they nest and make wings of our hands.
Should we frame photographs in the mason jars,
develop them in boiled water?
Take empty jar as promise, glass for wing.
We ignore the wingspan of our fingers.
Our devices count feathers,
wring plumage,
eat the bird from our hands.

The injured bird sleeps
in the camera’s belly,
the soft grumble of the kettle
flies over the mason jars
and strums a birdlike tune from the glass.

We take our place at the table.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

she wore her tattered chucks
like a ballerina’s curving
and war-torn pointe shoes.
silk that’s tough and weathered,
yet leaps through the air,
drawing circles and slicing arcs.
her uncertain footsteps made beautiful.

she wore her yellow hair
like a tomcat’s ball of yarn.
by anxiously tumbling and batting
at stringy strands, she refused to remain
still, until an avalanche descended
from her fingertips, escaping.
she falters at her pretense of control.

and when she dreamed, she hung
her wispy voice upon the wall,
like a painter hap-hazardously
clasping brush in mouth,
stopping to smear an undetected
hue across his forehead.
her masterpiece clumsily on hold.

Geoffrey

“My name is Geoffrey,” Geoffrey says.
I count his fingers again.
“What?”
“I’m your new friend, Geoffrey,” Geoffrey says.
I’ve never seen Geoffrey before. I’ve never seen someone with four fingers before.
“Do you know my Mom?” I ask.
Geoffrey shakes his head. His pointy ears don’t flap like an elephant’s. I wish they did.
“Mom!” I call.
“Yes, dear,” Mom says. I hear her walk down the stairs behind me. She opens the door. It swings shut behind her with a thwap.
“Hello,” Mom says.
“Hello Mom,” Geoffrey says. She is not his mom.
“I’m going to live with you now,” Geoffrey says. He smiles. His teeth are pointy like a dog’s.
“Do you need a lunch for school?” Mom says.
Geoffrey shakes his head and shows Mom the bag on his back. I didn’t see it until now.
It has Ninja Turtles on it. Mine is just green.

“How was the test today, Geoffrey?” Dad asks.
“It wasn’t bad,” Geoffrey says. He twirls spaghetti around on a fork. He slurps it up.
He looks like a big squid, the type that lives deep down in the ocean.
“Geoffrey studied hard all night,” Mom says. She smiles. She helped Geoffrey memorize the capitals of states while I did division in the living room.
“I scored a goal today,” I say. I don’t really like soccer.
“How was practice?” Dad asks.
“I scored a goal today,” I say. Dad smiles. He liked it better the second time.

Geoffrey won’t clean his room. He leaves his books and toys all over the floor. Geoffrey has trouble reading. He gets the letters in words all jumbled.
Geoffrey throws the book across the hall. It hits my door. My drawing of our cat, Snowball, falls off the door. Snowball is dead.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
Geoffrey is mad. His nose holes get big and small over and over again.
“I want to read,” Geoffrey says.
“I can help you,” I say. I’ve been helping him clean his room.
“No, I want to read,” Geoffrey says.
I grab another book off the shelf. I like this one. Mom gave a lot of my books to Geoffrey. He needs to like our home.
“Put it back,” Geoffrey says.
“I thought you wanted to read,” I say.
“I want to read. We need to clean,” Geoffrey says. He takes the book and puts it back.

*

I wave Geoffrey across the log. Sam looks at Geoffrey funny. Sam doesn’t think Geoffrey can cross the log over the stream. There are rocks at the bottom.
“I don’t think he can make it,” Sam says.
“He can,” I say. I wave Geoffrey across.
“His big ears are going to make him slip,” Sam says. Sam isn’t trying to be mean.
“That doesn’t even make sense,” I say.
Geoffrey steps on the log. He doesn’t fall. He teeters forward. I start to sing the song from the Christmas special. Geoffrey smiles. He loves Christmas.
Geoffrey’s white sneakers get dirty, but when he gets to the final steps of the log he jumps across.
He wraps his big grey arms around me and laughs his Geoffrey laugh. Even Sam laughs.
We get to the pond before Mom calls us for dinner.

Geoffrey and Sam sit together on the bus to school now.
I sit in the row behind them. Liz sits next to me.
Liz is quiet and doesn’t talk a whole lot. She likes to read some of the same books as me. So we’re friends.
Mostly Liz sits quietly and reads next to me. I listen to Geoffrey and Sam laugh. I poke them to get attention.

Today’s Geoffrey’s birthday. It’s not really his birthday.
Mom just picked a day.
We picked out a big carrot cake for him and invited Sam and Liz over.
Geoffrey bites the cake.
I nibble. The carrots ruin the cake.
Dad tries to sing happy birthday. He sounds like a sick animal. I clap anyways.
Geoffrey blows out his candle. He gets only one.
I smile.

Geoffrey pedals his bike.
The special pedals that help hold his big feet are blue. His favorite color.
I pedal my bike after his. We turn the corner around the Costanzas’ house. Their dog barks.
I wave.
I don’t see the curb.
My bike hits it.
The world flips over and under and all around and around.
I land on my face.
My mouth tastes funny.
Geoffrey pedals back.
I look at my knee. It’s red. And it hurts. A lot.

Geoffrey opens his mouth and music comes out.
It’s not even a song. Just a bunch of sounds escaping his mouth. I can sing a real song.
The auditorium sits quiet. Sam is smiling really big.
Liz doesn’t smile. Her arm has a purple spot.
I sit next to Mom. She’s smiling. I think she might be crying.
That’s stupid.
“Your brother has such a beautiful voice,” she whispers to me.
“I know,” I say.

The phone rings. It says it’s Liz.
“Hi, Liz,” I say.
“Hi,” she says.
Her voice is funny. Not like SpongeBob funny.
“What’s the matter?” I say. My arms get all prickly. Something in my throat falls out.
Liz is quiet.
“Are you there?” I ask again.
I can hear her there. There’s someone in the background. I can’t tell because it’s a phone. I wish I could see her face.
“Yes,” she says. She’s quiet now. Like real quiet. Like whisper quiet.
“Can I talk to Geoffrey?” she asks. I don’t say anything. I call Geoffrey over. He was reading a book.
I listen to them talk. It doesn’t sound like words. It sounds like an iPod playing into a pillow.
I sit on the stairs and draw a picture of a squid on the wall with a crayon. Dad makes me clean it.

“You ready for today?” Dad says. “It’s a big one.”
“I know” I say. It’s not. Graduating fifth grade shouldn’t be a big deal.
“Middle school is a big step!” he says. “Next thing you know you’ll be marching out the door to go to college.” He fake cries. I roll my eyes.
“Why aren’t you coming again?” I ask him.
“Your mom’s going,” he says.
“Why can’t you come too?” I ask.
“Because your mom’s going,” he says laughing. “Now get out there. You’ll miss your bus.”
Geoffrey’s already on the bus. I sit with him.

Alex sits across from me in math.
Geoffrey’s taking eighth grade classes. He’s always a year ahead.
I try to copy what Miss Anderson is writing on the board.
Alex is looking at me. I think. I can’t tell.
I look up.
Miss Anderson calls Alex to the board to do a problem.
He turns his seven into an elephant with the chalk. Miss Anderson rolls her eyes and sends him back.
I laugh. He looks at me.
I look away.

“I hate dances,” Liz says.
“Come on, Liz. It’s our last one!” I say.
Liz has claimed a table in the cafeteria. She draws a picture of a vampire sucking blood.
“Last one, until high school,” she says.
“But it’s the last one we’ll have together!” I say. Liz is moving schools.
“You just want back up to ask Alex to dance,” she says. She adds extra blood to the fangs.
“No,” I lie.
“Just go do it, okay? It’s just a fucking dance,” she says. Liz curses a lot.
“Is this because of Geoffrey?” I ask.
“No,” Liz says.
“You know the loud music hurts his ears. That’s why he couldn’t come.”
The fangs get sharper.
“Liz, I know-” I start.
“Just go upstairs and dance,” Liz says.
I leave Liz to draw. I open the door to the stairs.
“Alex’s going to say no. You know that right?” she says.
I go up the stairs.
Alex does.

I wait with Geoffrey by the bus stop.
“How’s school?” he asks. His ears twitch. Winter’s bad for them. They get really cold.
“It is,” I say.
“Always so mysterious,” he says. He smiles his pointed smile.
“How’s your school?” I ask.
“It is,” he says.
“Haha,” I say.
We wait together for a moment.
“You really don’t have to wait with me,” I say. “Mom’s probably waiting to drive you to school.”
“I like waiting here with you,” Geoffrey says.
“You’re weird,” I say. I punch his arm.
“You know I don’t like being called that,” he says.
The bus turns the corner.

They wrote a word on my locker.
Probably with Sharpie.
It’s just a word.
It’s ugly and black. It almost looks like charcoal.
I pretend not to see it.
I know it was Alex.
It’s a lie.
I think.

I smell smoke from the porch.
I walk outside. Dad’s sitting there. He rocks on Grandad’s rocking chair.
He holds the little brown thing between his fingers like a pen.
He taps its and ash tumbles out.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hi,” Dad says.
“I-”
“I had to get out while Geoffrey’s at practice. You know how he hates these,” he says.
“I-”
“He’s really smart you know that? I’m really proud of him,” he says.
“I-”
“You won’t tell will you?” he says.
“I-”
“I know you won’t. I’m sorry about your locker.”
“I-”
“I don’t like people lying about my kids,” he says.

The walls of Geoffrey’s school are big and made out of a bunch of rocks.
Not at all like the cinderblocks over at mine.
It’s pristine, and modern, but also sort of ancient. I can’t look away.
I walked here after school. I don’t know why. I skipped the bus. I let Sam sit by himself.
I wait for the bell to ring and for the boys come out. They wear jackets. Not for the cold, but to make themselves look nice.
I don’t get it.
Geoffrey walks out. One of his friends—Jack, I think—walks with him. They laugh and push each other. He’s just a guy to them.
Geoffrey sees me.
I wave and try not draw attention to myself.
My blue jeans and t-shirt must make me look like a redneck.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” I say.
“Why are you here? Why didn’t you take the bus?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. My throat feels clogged.
“Are you okay?” Geoffrey says.
Jack walks forward.
Geoffrey shoos him away or something.
“Are you okay?” Geoffrey asks again.
I shake my head.
We walk home that day.

Geoffrey turns on the television.
We flip through the channels.
I heard once that Friday night is where television goes to die.
Maybe that’s true.
He sits down next to me on the couch.
He gave up his Friday night for me. Jack and his friends wanted to go somewhere.
Sam was sick. I was alone.
Geoffrey stayed home.
“How about-” Geoffrey asks. It’s one of those parody movies.
“No.”
A rhinoceros chases its son away.
“No.”
Two women scream at each other. One pulls the other’s hair.
“No.”
Geoffrey climbs the channels.

I look outside the window again. I know Dad is gone.
I feel like I should cover myself.
It’s silly. To feel wrong with your own body in your own home. Even when you are naked.
I stare in the large mirror on the wall.
I trace my face with the tips of my fingers and run them along my body.
“Hello?” Geoffrey asks from behind the closed door. I had sent him a text.
I open it.
It just happens.
I want to tell myself that Geoffrey starts, but I don’t know.
I feel his arms across my back and our faces are slipping together over and over again.
I reach and pull off his shirt.
We back tread without thinking.
I feel his sharp teeth grab at my lip and I laugh.
I fall backwards onto my bed.

Both of us lie together for a while.
Two people tied together.
People have always called Geoffrey my brother.
He’s never been that.
He’s always been different.
“Hi,” I say. It’s all I can say.
“I’m sorry,” Geoffrey says.
I smile. He tries to.
He frowns.
I’ve known Geoffrey for seven years. I don’t remember any frowns.
I place my fingers on his lips, and I try to pry a smile out of it.
Geoffrey nips at them. I jerk back.
I want him to laugh.
He wraps his hands around my back.
We touch foreheads.
“I’m sorry,” he says.

I roll over.
I roll over to the edge of my bed.
I roll back.
I sit up and fumble about the sheets.
He’s hiding. I tell myself. Like when we were kids.
I stick my head under the bed.
I open the closet.
I go to Geoffrey’s room.
There is no room.
The door is gone.
It’s a bland tan wall, stretching downwards and sideways to the winding stairs.
I knew there was a room.
I knew there was a boy.

Dad sits on the porch.
He holds the cigarette between his fingers.
I sit down next to him.
“Hello,” he says.
“Hi,” I say.
“How’s your mom?” he asks.
“She’s okay,” I say.
“That’s good,” he says.
“I-”
“Do you ever-” he says.
“Sometimes-”I say
“Feel like-”
“Yeah,” I say.
Dad taps it again.
I look at the road and watch the cars go by.

Ship High In Transit

you’re on a boat
you know in your heart
you should be on a plane
but you don’t have that option
your family expects a seaman
society wants a sailor
so you join the navy
knowing all along
you want to soar through the sky
not glide through the waves
but you’re a midshipman
and you go through your training
suffering, knowing
you should be learning about flaps and gear
not rudders and jibs
but you do it
you go through with it
and you graduate out of annapolis
and you’re into the full thing
you’ve suppressed your wish to fly
you know you can’t fly now
your wings have been clipped
and you’re a naval officer now
but then you hear some people speaking one day
saying they’re doing paperwork
so they can transfer into the air force
you don’t understand it, how does it work?
how can that which is by sea travel by air?
so you read up on it
at two thirty in the morning so no one can find out
and you read up on it
and you learn the names of the forms
and you learn the names of the forms
and you get excited
but you know it has to be a secret
and you know people on both sides of the equation hate
people that switch
but this transition is worth it
so you keep it a secret
fill out example paperwork so you can be prepared
and when no one is looking, you lean back and
imagine breaking the sound barrier at 6500 feet
but when people are around you don’t do it
you take extra care you’re never caught
because if you are you’d be dishonorably discharged—
one in twelve chance if you’re caught
you remember that statistic
so you take the extra precaution
but you know there is hope for you
and there are people to help you
and there are people like you
and people transferring from the other direction—
air force into navy
you meet one, you joke that you wish you could just switch
but inside it hurts because you know you actually can’t
and late at night you’re up
eyes flooding like a busted hull
because you know so many people wouldn’t care about how
important it is to you
to change
or rather
to change to what you should have been in the first place
and you cry because you know it’ll be hard
hard to learn the controls of a dauntless after learning a
destroyer
hard to reacquaint yourself with a new environment
under a new designation
hard to tell those who knew you as a seaman that you’re a
flyboy now
but you know for the peace of mind it’s worth it
and you keep crying
because you know
it’d be far easier to just have a weapon’s misfire
than to deal with the transition
but you don’t want to be buried at sea—you want your urn
emptied through the bomb bay
so you can’t die
not yet
no matter how much of a painkiller it’d be
and even as you’re in the middle of international waters
you sit in the head, thinking about the papers

Fingerprints

The only truly
solid, unchanging
part of identity
is fingerprints.

Even those can be burned off.

We are soft clay,
molded by roots and
stimuli—constant
works-in-progress.

Our work is never done.

We lose ourselves,
sometimes just to
re-build ourselves
on firmer foundations.

We still are never static.

Every day we wake
as someone new—
double-sided tape
constantly gathering.

Everything we touch sticks to us.

Every experience
leaves its mark:
abiding traces,
residual stains

of fingerprints
smudged onto the
mirrors of our soul.

Melody Bishop

I Am Not the Phoenix

I am not the phoenix,
but I am the flower that blooms
in the wake of her ashes.
Accepting that for now I am
bound to this flightless form,
but aspiring nonetheless after
her magnificent departure,
that one day I too may
shed my earthen skin and
take a truer form.

But for now: grow.
Grow strong, grow tall,
grow gold and green.
Grow so that the fire may
have more to consume when
at last it comes, for it surely will.
Grow so that they may see
the fire for miles and
feel the radiating warmth
thawing their frozen bones
after a winter-like slumber.
They will marvel at the sight, and
they too will feel reborn,
if only for a moment.

Love Letter to Myself

Baby, are you a parking ticket? Because you have fine written all over you.
Actually, I have mine written all over me.
The fine print in every follicle says
Copyright because God knows everyone is trying to rob this temple.
People come from miles to lay at my feet,
worship every strand of my platinum DNA.
And if you’re looking and not seeing what I see,
then this light doesn’t do justice.

I am not a sunny day;
my stomach is soft but it is no cloud
the marks on my sides are not sun rays
they are lightning strikes
and my body is a fucking storm.
I walk in and there’s a hurricane,
yes, there is thunder in my thighs
but it is just to let them know that I have arrived.
When those cat calls are coming in from every direction
the wind in my hair blows them away.

I am Pangaea before it broke to pieces
each individual curve together—
a tectonic masterpiece.
The tide of honks from car horns
smacks against my shores.
I will not relinquish one grain of sand.

I am a leather bound first-edition:
gold flake pages and squid ink
printed next level Bukowski shit.
You cannot tear pages from my spine
because my Morse code vertebrae are held together
by the cement of a thousand compliments.
No one will ever need to tell me to stand up straighter.

I have the width of decades in my hips.
I stand both a monument of evolution
and a miracle of creation
communally existing in one body,
prodigy of Darwin and paragon of generation.

My bones are compressed stardust;
a Big Bang every time my heart beats
pumping the elements of the world to my veins.
My synapses are nebulae,
constellations suspended in gem dust
grains of glitter—a sparkling mindspace.

I will not hide behind the frosted glass of vagueness.
I will not hide in the too-wide space between my eyes.
I will brush my teeth until my gums bleed,
trying to scrub away ‘I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m not worth it.”
I am worth everything.

I have traveled light,
but I will not carry extra baggage placed upon me.
Insecurity has weakened my knees and they are giving out—
no more.

Beauty does not live in the eye of the beholder.
It lives in the thick of my thighs,
my gapped front teeth,
and the universe between my ears.