Archive for the 'very short fiction' Category

Afar

wintercorn

It is the stability that makes it all so bearable. Never having to decide. My sacrament runs on established lines. Trinities. Bells ringing at predictable intervals. The bowing. The smoke. The painted snake runs along the inside of our mudded holy place and then out and around the building into the golden rows. The snake becomes the labyrinth within which we seek meaning. What is in the center of god’s heart? How far do we walk to find the center of that maze? The maize that grows in the fields feeds the children who laugh without knowing god nor snake nor sorrow. The maize raises its head to the sun until it falls over dead and feeds the cranes while the children sit inside drinking atole, hot liquid corn sweetening short cold days. It is the stability that makes it all so bearable. The stability of the dance that raises the children and buries the elders, the stability of the harvest, the chanting and the secret smoke that talks to the great ones, the ten generations who came before and will come after. Snake does not ascend. Snake lives here, on earth, with us. Like snake, we feel the sun on our backs, and we are warmed from afar.

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Camp

The tribe named me, so in courage I shall live. That’s what I said, and that’s what I meant. The grandmother said stop, stop, stop child, whatever the tribe named you is silent now. No language left, no names allowed in missionary schools and turning back on her I left like sand blown across dry miles to where I could keep my name without caution, without whisper, without fear.

Where I moved, west coast, Oregon near the Washington state line, there’s some Lakota, some Puyallup, some stragglers from the dry lands like me.  Dine. We got the same hello for each other, though, reaching the lips and turning the eyes away, yata-hey brother. Quiet people, some of us, out there silent with the clams and strong runners upstream or down, don’t matter. When I moved there, I won’t say the name of the town, cause history is full of shame, it was a settlement, just new built, for Japanese families, those same families that came across from who-knows-where on iron rails, iron horses, iron and blood carrying loss and history all across the country or all across the sea from where the sun is wide. Planting berries, flowers, gardens like poems. All pulled up or left behind. I can’t make a phone call; the switchboard is always closed. I am lonely with these lonely people, their language not mine and not the common language of outside the camp either.

Unless they get dented or rusted, tracks last a long time. Story tellers last a long time too. In the rounded huts of the Japanese settlement, I learned new words, genke desu, konichiwa, hottoitenka. They learned new words, too. The word for interment – camp;  food – chow; a meeting point for noses – spam, shit on a shingle, hash. Ugly words, yes – we could agree on these when we met in the open yard after meals, before lights out, all of us there for the interim. Interred for the interim, high fences, hard lights. Hiragana, good night, my temporary friend. Yá’át’ééh hiiłchi’į’ Good night, stranger, good night friend.

Breathing

I expired on the day of my death. It had been my aspiration to move others, to lift their eyes, their voices, their hearts. At times I may have failed, and I may have succeeded at others. It is not my place to make that judgment.

My death.  I was talking about my death, wasn’t I? Leading one to question my presence here, on this page, letters crawling across the screen from a dead man. There are certain things that are hard for me to perceive, from this side of the expiration. For instance, whether or not my typing can be heard. There is no physical keystroke, you see, no finger pads, no fingerprints. I have no fingerprints. I find that wondrous.

I hope and pray that the little ones on the other side of that thin membrane that separates us will continue to learn, will continue to do right because that is what is in their hearts. I know, of course, from human experience, that the will to do right begins as a set of rules and gradually becomes a part of the body and mind, bred in the bone, as natural as breathing.

It does not matter now, wherever now is, but I was not an old man when I died. It was my job to hold still, as an old man does, to listen and to offer what solace I might. The church gave me the means to learn this, and the living, and for that I am grateful.

There is a lingering part of me still hovering there in that stone building, listening to the choir, preparing the sermon. I even imagine that I can feel the polished wood, smell the incense. There is an echo in dying; I did not know that, and I listen to it repeat, reverberate, and dissipate gradually in this timeless place. I wonder if timelessness has no beginning or end. I wonder that even as the sense of time falls away from me. The children will be singing now, in the fields where the bluebells wave in the damp green grass. A song I taught them, to comfort them, to fill their lungs, to give them all the breath they might need to live well, with or without me.

 

Wuxi to Wuhan

The smashed banana plant in China made banana mash for smoothies manufactured and bottled in Cleveland, Illinois. The mash machine, a banana macerator, took in up to 1500 pounds of banana in a single open mouth gulp, emitting banana burps that hovered over the ancient city on the Yang-tse River. The banana peels were spit into a vat 20 feet high, which gradually came to a very high heat, releasing a continuous vapor. The banana peels eventually became a viscous substance that was compressed into long flat sheets, cooled and then cut into panels, which were sold to kitchen remodelers in Portland Oregon, who repurposed them into environmentally sound faux marble countertops with customizable colors.

The shaking of the banana macerator made an awesome sound, one that flavored the dreams of every small child and old man from Wuxi to Wuhan. The sound of squids walking, the sound of tree roots squelching through mud, the sound of moths wiggling out of their cocoons, amplified 100,000 times. The sleep of the people from Wuxi from Wuhan was both sweet and uneasy, and when they woke, they wiped banana vapor out of their eyes and had rice for breakfast, with dried fish and salty plum. The smashed banana plant on the Yang-tse River gave jobs to the people from Wuxi to Wuhan, but after the first generation, no citizen of either city ate bananas, and after two generations, many of them left, unable to stand the smell of bananas for even one more minute.

Lina Jean

This is the true story of the spontaneous combustion of Lina Jean Morrow. She was the type of girl who was all legs and buck teeth at seven, all blonde glamour at thirteen, and all ashes and crispy burnt skin before she was 19.

Lina Jean Morrow’s life was short and bright and hard. There were few things Lina enjoyed more than sunning herself like a lizard in the spring air, which made the family laugh when she was their baby girl but made them mad and maddened as she grew into those teeth. She was a tall girl, a tall girl with a habit of looking over the shoulder of whoever she was talking to, causing many people to turn around and look behind themselves to see who she was addressing.  It was just Lina Jean’s way. The way she talked was slightly foreign, an accent that was not exactly refined or delicate, but satisfying and exotic, the way other people’s family dinners can be. Familiar but not family. That’s what Lina’s cousins said, when they talked about the conbustion.

Before she combusted, the cousins had a regular comedy routine of walking behind Lina, walking her runway walk, sticking out their teeth to imitate her bucktooth pouty lip ways. Most of the time, Lina ignored them, but once in a while one of them would pull on her hands, throw themselves at her feet and beg her to marry them, while the others punched each other, laughing til they fell down in the dirt. Lina kicked a cousin or two, and once announced, over her cousin Ned’s shoulder, that if he was her husband, she’d shoot his dick off, which should have been funny but instead caused a whole lot of cousins to stay away from her for a few weeks. Ned said he had dreams about that, the way she looked over his shoulder, like she was looking for the knife, he said.

One day, Lina was sunning herself like a lizard on a warm rock on a spring day and her baby toe caught on fire. A little trickle of smoke appeared and she looked at it, like she was admiring a pedicure or thinking about what color of polish to put on. The smoke turned to a bright red flame and traveled up the top of her foot and along her thin shin bones and from there spread suddenly, and the cousins said the heat could be felt two counties away. Ned, who was across the state line looking for work, turned his head and looked back over his shoulder. He could see the line of smoke turn oily and black, and he felt Lina Jean burn white hot, watched her skeleton soften and emit a fragile ghostly crunch. He has blisters on his face to this day to prove that he witnessed her last moments, and no one in Stitch County has ever doubted him.

Concatenation

I come from the island country of Concatenation. The commonwealth of Concatenation was named by the state poets and accountants who were held responsible for balancing the books, booking the best artists, poets and musicians; and the doctors, who raised the technology of health care to a single point of light. Every citizen of Concatenation was entitled to unlimited hair removal, dermabrasion and cold laser therapy. They were uniformly smooth, soft and silky to the touch, but unfortunately utterly unable to tolerate touch of any kind, and so the pedestal was actually invented in the commonwealth of Concatenation, a little known fact that has nonetheless shaped the past and future of the Catenates who first migrated to the island in 1846 from a small atoll on a deep current that passes Concatenation during times of climate change.

There was a heavy wind that day, I remember distinctly, with a sunset that was mango colored and shot with clouds. There was a ringing in my head, and a sense of warning, as of shipwreck, the shipwreck that is in the bones of all natives of Concatenation, the one that brought us here, and threw us away, stranded, on foreign soil.

Standing on the prow of a sailing ship is a young boy, or a young girl, no one ever knows in these stories, but whoever or whatever he is, he stands tall and looks far as the ship tosses. Only the very young can be tossed like this without severing an artery or rupturing a disc, and so we know that the young boy or girl is rubbery and ripe for the hard action of adventure. The slim bare feet are dirty, the kerchief ties the tangled brown hair back and away from the face, which is both brown and mischievous. This child, regardless of age, stature or gender, has been traveling like Pan on the seven seas, and here has come to the island of Concatenation, where the adventure changes suddenly from swashbuckling and overt to spicy, mysterious, and internal. I saw the child there, hanging onto the ropes, nearly falling into the wash, and I saw my future. Pulling against my mother’s skirts, I tugged away, away from her brush and her braiding, away from the skin, hair and nail care that made up my predicted path, and ran into the foaming waters at the edge of the sea on the island of concatenation, where I heard the sea birds ringing in the changing of the season, tintinabulating, sang the birds. And so what, you may ask? That was the first day of my life as a pirate, is what I say back to you, the me who is little and wild and still hairy as might be. Saved.

Flowering citrus

Flowering citrus – 1

Orange squirt, a soda, a fruit, elicits a sudden unexpected response from the back of my mouth, a wet ripe reaction to the smell of orange, the sudden demanding spray of lemon. The underside of a lemon tree provides a parasol of leaves, of warm lemon scent in lightly heated shade. Pick. This lemon is plump, skin thick and shiny under a thin dusty topcoat. I roll the lemon down the front of my jeans, roll off the light dust. Bring it back to my face. Smell. The smell of lemon is umbilical, so unlike furniture polish or dishwashing lemon that I hold it against my face – lemon peel pressed against my nose, my lips, my chin, and inhale as if it were vapor. Cut. The juices burn the many small wounds on my rough 10-year-old hands, rough from digging, and climbing, and jumping out of trees into a world of wood and dirt and citrus smells, rough from being out of range, from living wild in cultivated orange and lemon groves, near a small farmhouse, a fruit stand, an old brown dog with a limp, a piece of fruit, a pile of polished rocks. Rolling the lemon against my face, there it is, like magic. I wipe my hands on my worn cotton shirt, so that I might smell it again later, when I undress tonight. 

 

Flowering citrus – 2

“Lemon meringue pie?” she asks, eyebrows up, pen in hand.

“Nah. I don’t like meringue much. What else you got?” I can’t help being distracted, worrying about the car, motor running, out in the parking lot.

“Has to be lemon?” she says, good humor intact.

“Has to be lemon,” I agree, forcing my eyes to stay on her face. Car’s still there; that’s an article of faith.

“We got lemon sherbet?” she suggests.

“Rather have lemon tarts, got any of those?” I counter. I see Michael out the corner of my eye, walking casually across the gift shop and to the cash register, where the camera stares at the bill of his baseball cap.

“Usually we do, but we’re out. They’re not very good anyway,” she says, confidentially. I laugh.

“Okay. How’s about those lemon wafer cookies, you got those, right?”

“Probably. You’ll have to go to the gift shop, over by the candy section. We don’t have them in the diner. You want a coffee to go with that?” She’s relaxed, no fears, no early warning signs. My confidence is up.

“How about lemon drops, I like them. Got those?” I’m starting to stare, I can tell, and her eyes come up to mine all of a sudden like she’s just heard me speaking a foreign language.

“Sure. Yeah, we got lemon drops. In the candy section, kinda by where the lemon wafer cookies are.” I can see her strain through this. Her pen is still up, but hanging funny, like a question mark. She pockets her order book and says “I’ll get that coffee. Be right back.” The back of her uniform, walking away from me, looks uncertain, wrinkles highlighted by the fluorescent lights. Stains on the right side of her butt, where she’s been wiping her hand without thinking about it, through many uneventful shifts. Until now.


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