Kentucky Gothic

Darkly webbed withered vines
strung out along the telephone lines;
deep-holler, river, mud-bank valley,
stained sidewalk, cobbled, and colonial alley;
white siding, cracked, and black-eyed shutters,
gully-gushing bent-tin gutters;
funeral procession through the murk,
tinted windows, veils, shadows lurk;
cedar, birch, ash, and oak,
brick and mortar, glass and smoke;
clouds and grays and mists and rains,
decaying leaves and shattered panes;
she walked here, each day, along this road
from nowhere to nowhere—twelve years old;
mortician smiling behind a cadaver
as if he is glad, at last, to have her;
buried in her flashy fuchsia dress
with a woman’s blush, a little girl’s tress;
soft satin inlay within the coffin
and the bow in her hair that she wore often;
sonorous sermons to come to terms
and hard mahogany to hold off the worms.

Flash Fictions

Naive
“There was once a man who believed ardently in Humanism,” her father said. “He believed so utterly in Humanism that he ventured forth into the wild jungle, where it was said man-eating tigers stalked the shadows. He brought with him no protection except several books on Humanism. Once there, he preached to the jungle on the value of a human life, reading from his many books of all the merits of letting humans live and thrive. Many of the tigers passed him by, indifferently. But a few tigers began to gather around him, watching him very intently as he lectured them. He even preached to their cubs, thinking the next generation of tigers would know better than eating human beings, if only they were taught to be Humanists.
“An expedition discovered what remained of him a few weeks later, his bones surrounded by books and his skull’s sockets gaping wide, as if in abject surprise.”
“He was naive,” his daughter said. “He should have known better. Predators don’t care about that stuff when they’re hungry.”
“True,” her father said. “But you, too, should know that you are living in a jungle. That is why I want you to bring more than just books with you to ward off the tigers.”

Zen Breath
It began so simply, as many things do, and it grew unto complexity, like a sheet of paper, blankly white and smooth and flat, now folded into an origami animal. Miyazaki’s anger burgeoned from workaday irritation to blinding rage as he waited in the subway station at Shinjuku. And the irony of the situation was that as he stood waiting, steeped in his own aggravation, he attempted to take a deep, Zen-centering breath and release the rage in dissipation— he really had tried— only for the nearby commuter to breathe out a cloud of cigarette smoke which Miyazaki inadvertently breathed in, coughing uncontrollably while the other commuters stepped away from him; stepped away from him as if he had some fatal airborne illness for which he needed to be quarantined. It was then, as he coughed and cursed and chewed the grudge of that terrible year spent as a twelve-hour-a-day cubicle jockey— it was then that the yokai possessed him, at long last, and drove his fist through the smoker’s heart, tearing its vermilion core out while bystanders screamed and scrambled to flee from the horrific carnage wrought by the long-horned demon that suddenly stood amongst them, glaring with red eyes as he rushed about, in gorilla-fisted fashion, rampaging throughout silver-edged, neon-lit Shinjuku until later that afternoon, killing many people in his wake until finally finding himself at Hanazono Shrine and, by entering it, expelling the demon so Miyazaki could sit down and empty himself of his negative emotions. Indeed, he emptied himself so completely of negative emotions after that terrible indulgence that he transcended the mortal plane and passed on to a higher plane of Enlightenment. Many people, consequently, have since concluded that Enlightenment could be achieved as much through devastating debauchery, excess, and sin as much as through years of abstinence, purification, and meditation. Zen Buddhists and Shinto Priests cannot reconcile themselves either way and, it is feared, many such esteemed personages were denied Enlightenment because of this troublesome anecdote.

The Crossroads

I felt I had, in my mad dash, run my legs to splinters. When I saw the inn, standing tall beneath the moon and looming large on the precipice of the seaside cliff, I beat my feet harder in my boots, as if digging another trench against the Krauts and their endless artillery shells. I hurled myself into the door, slamming it bodily aside and falling forward onto a soft carpet. At my back I could still feel the darkness and the artillery fire vying for conquest of the night, and, too, that fetid breath of the monstrous thing that had pursued me down this midnight road.
I kicked the door shut, the heavy wood slamming loudly with a finality like artillery falling from above. I lay there, then, relieved and insensate, breathing heavily as my bones and muscles ached below my knees. Too long the War March was. The hammering of the artillery and the crawling through wet mud and barbed wire and the bodies of the dead—all too much for me. As I sat up, gathering about me my senses like a seamstress’s scattered thread, I realized that a tall woman stood before me. She was fair as salt, ephemeral like a ghost in moonlight, her white nightgown and white hair making a pale pillar of her, like a caryatid. Yet, her material form was attested by a candlestick she held to light that dark lobby. A ruby cross necklace lay between her comely breasts.
“Are you the innkeeper?” I asked.
“Always,” she said. She had a French accent, as was to be expected in Boulogne.
I looked to the window near the door, and saw the moon eclipsed by a bulky shadow. I heard the creature snorting in frustration, like a boar; like the push and pull of the tides.
“That…thing chased me here,” I said.
“As it does us all,” she said. “It catches some of us unawares. Some go to it willingly. Others ride it as a mount, exulting. But even they slip off, in time, and are eaten.”
“I…I am with the Irish Guards,” I said. Clutching my head in my hands, I felt ashamed at leaving my brothers behind. “I fled. The fighting… The artillery… I cannot take it anymore…”
“Come,” she said simply. “Your bed awaits.”
“My bed?” I said, confused.
She said no more, but turned to leave.
I did not know what to make of this young lady. Feeling ashamed now for my shame, I rose, slowly, wobbly, to my bleeding feet and followed her as she lifted her candle to light the inner gloom of that large establishment.
I could see little as I followed her except her back. She wore a sleeveless gown in the French style, the back low cut, the angel wings of her shoulderblades etched softly in her pale skin. She was ghostly in form, in her movements, as if she floated ahead of me through that enveloping darkness. She inspired in me fear, like a war widow soon to betray me to the Krauts. I had heard stories of them— French women who betrayed Allied soldiers to the enemy in return for favors. Then again, there were plenty of other stories about French women who saved many Allied soldiers; women who died saving them and their fellow countrymen. So I followed her, knowing I did not wish to return to the artillery shells or the beast beyond the threshold.
She led me upstairs to another hallway with many doors on either side. Guiding me to the last door, near the hall’s window, she unlocked the room with a key. I chanced a glance outside and glimpsed, briefly, that bulwark form of the beast below, shrouded in the obscurity of shadows. The moon glowed brightly, as did the innkeeper’s pallor. She opened the door and gestured with a lithe arm as slender and speckless as ivory. Her white hair, I realized, was coiled back into a chain of French braids, baring her slender neck on one side.
“If soldiers come,” I said, “they will ask for me.”
“No one who comes here ever knows where they will go,” she said. Her voice was faint, yet even as she stood apart from me, it was as intimate as if she spoke it at my ear. The inn, otherwise, was silent, except for the snorting of the beast at the threshold and my own heartbeat, the latter echoing loudly in my own ears. She did not smile, but she did not frown. Her face was enigmatic as she asked me a question.
“Do you want company on this Night among nights?”
I watched her face— looking for a hint of malice or mockery, or simple coquettishness—but found nothing. Only mystery dwelled in that pretty visage.
“No,” I said. “I wish only to sleep.”
She entered the room, her candle’s halo blooming in that space. What was revealed as the shadows pulled back like overabundant curtains was kingly quarters, finely furnished and familiar, its walls adorned with wallpapered flowers and finely lacquered wainscoting. The large bed was utterly unlike the muddy blanket beneath which I shivered in the trenches. It was a four-post bed heavily stacked with quilts and would have been more befitting of a Lord than a simple farmhand such as myself. Looking upon it, I knew I could not wear my sullied uniform. My muddy, bloody boots did not belong in that room, either, and so I took them off, one at a time. The pain was excruciating. It felt as if I had taken my shins off with the boots. At length, however, I stood in the hallway, barefooted and hesitant to enter. The innkeeper beckoned me with a gentle gesture, and so I entered.
She set the candle on a small escritoire beside the bed and walked to the door, presumably to leave. When I heard the door shut, I doffed my uniform, born again in my undergarments. I did not pray, but put myself to bed with utmost expedience. The innkeeper startled me by sitting on the bed, next to me, and laying a soft hand upon my forehead. I had thought she had left. She did not smile, but there was an impression of benevolence and concern in her face.
“Have you no other needs?” she asked.
“My legs hurt,” I said.
“Do not think on it,” she cooed, stroking my forehead. The ruby cross flashed as it caught the light from the melting candle. It seemed to blind me.
I felt hot and chilled alternately. I wished to be home, in Ireland, with my family.
“Why do you wear that…thing?” I asked, waving away at the red flash of her cross. “You know it does no good in times like these. Nothing does.” I became angry. Bitter. Spiteful. “The dead pile up. Nothing stymies the flow of blood. God takes no sides, but takes from every side. We are His playthings.”
She said nothing, her face illegible; mysterious; beautiful and empty, like the cross that adorned her heart. I sighed in resignation and regret.
“I have no one to blame but myself,” I said, after a while. “My father told me not to enlist. But I volunteered to fight over here of my own accord. Everyone in Britain looks down upon us Irish, but when there’s a fight we cannot help but ball up our fists and start swinging for their honor, as much as for our own. Maybe I thought I’d find a new life over the sea. But all I found was another crossroads to spin about on.”
She shushed me with a kiss to my lips.
“I shall sing to you a lullaby,” she said. “To ease you in your time of suffering.”
She then proceeded to sing a quiet, soothing song that calmed me like morphine in my veins.

“My only love swam out to sea
while singing a song, mon ami.
He swam too far dans la mer
while wondering how not to care.
My only love did not swim back to me,
lost forever in la nuit…”

I slipped beneath her gentle palm into an ocean of oblivion far deeper and darker than the Atlantic. There was no pain there; no lonely ache for home, nor cold nor fever nor memory nor regret. There was only the deepness of peace. I was at long last contented.

***

When I awoke, the fair-haired woman was gone, along with her candle and her ruby cross. Yet, I was not alone. Moonlight spilled through the windows, illuminating in milky softness the interior of the room: the walls, the furniture, the bed upon which I lay. All things were illuminated; all things except the hulking mass of shadow at the foot of the bed.
I tried to scream, but my voice would not come forth. The beast lurched forward, then, and fell upon my feet, chewing at them slowly while I attempted to scream for help and pull away. Yet, I was paralyzed, voiceless, at the mercy of its snorting, ravenous, cruel appetite as it chewed my toes and my feet and then my shins. I sobbed inwardly, for tears would not come, and the beast ate of my legs until, as if suddenly disinterested, it turned away and melded again into the shadows. In agony now, I succumbed to the pain and fell asleep all at once.

***

I awoke in a tent. A doctor stood over me, a clipboard and a pencil in his hands. He wore a long white uniform that was splattered redly, like a butcher’s apron.
“Good,” he said with a British accent. “You are awake. The worst is over.” He turned away, then paused. “But I suppose the worst is yet to come.”
He motioned for a tall, pale nurse to see to me. She wore a Red Cross gown, with a white skirt and a bonnet over her white hair. She looked familiar, but I could not remember where I had seen her. I was feverish, soaken with sweat, and I ached all along my legs. I tried to sit up, but had not the strength. I looked to one side of the table, and to the other, and saw other soldiers bandaged and bloodied and broken. Some were covered with a blanket, head to toe. Dead.
“I do not belong here,” I whispered. I pushed myself up and turned, trying to stand from the bed. I hopped off the bed, plunging downward through empty air and hitting the floor with my thighs, sprawling out helplessly in astonished misery. The tall nurse rushed towards me, but it was too late. Surveying myself, I moaned in horror. My legs had been reduced to stubs by the Krauts’ artillery shells.

***

That night I crawled out of the medical tent, pulling myself through the camp and out into the French countryside. I crawled past the dozens of nameless crosses that stood in testimony to the thousands that had died in the war, nailed together out of driftwood and kindling. I wanted to go West, away from the butchery of trench warfare. I wanted to return to Ireland. I would float out to sea, I told myself, and wake up a selkie on Erin’s beach once again. Behind me I heard the artillery shells that lit up the night once again. But I never looked back. If I looked back I would dissolve.
I crawled all night and at morning light found myself at the edge of a seaside cliff. I stared down its bluff as the briny air whispered intimately in my ear. Far below, in the deep water, I saw the beast beyond the threshold, snorting hungrily among the waves. It wanted the rest of me. There was nothing left for me except to feed it, as countless other soldiers had in this terrible war. Whoever won the war, the spoils were its alone.
The tall nurse surprised me, then, running towards me. Her hair was done up in a French braid that billowed behind her. She had been looking for me, it seemed, and she now found me. I saw the cross upon her heart, red as blood, and bitterly wished to tear it from her breast. Behind her I saw the explosions of a battle enjoined once again. She glistened like a pillar of salt, and I looked away from her before she could dissolve within the warring winds. She called to me, in her French accent, and the beast called to me, too, with a terrible squeal like a bomb falling and exploding all around me.
“Do not swim so eagerly out to sea!” she cried.
“To sea,” I said. “To home. To nothingness.”
I pivoted my legless body upon the crossroads and plunged forward, giving myself fully to the beast.

Scrambled, Not Over Easy

2019-01-09 13.21.46-1

No one tells you that
while you are lulled in routine,
ungratefully disgruntled by
early Monday morning traffic
and you stop behind other cars
and wait impatiently for someone to turn
that the universe will smack you
on the back of the head
at fifty miles an hour,
telling you
“WAKE THE FUCK UP”
as the car behind you
flips you over,
somersaulting you
with the world atop your
head and
flapjacking your worldview
until you see things more clearly,
even as your eyes loll in their sockets
like Magic 8 Balls
drunk on quantum
uncertainty.
No one tells you that during a
car wreck
your body will scream
involuntarily
while you ride shotgun
in your own head,
eyeing yourself coolly
while shards of glass explode as a
mandorla
all around you
and your body performs interpretive
Jazz Hands
to express the melodrama
for which you are the
embarrassed audience.
They never tell you
that you see everything in
real-time
while
Zen-detached,
as if admiring the Hollywood production
of the dynamic scene of
chaos
in which you are the
happenstance center.
And then, when the car finally slides
to a stop, resting on its roof,
and you are hanging upside-down
like a tangled marionette
from your seatbelt
and everyone is screaming their scripted lines
“Get out!
Get out of the car!”
and you smell gasoline
hemorrhaging out of the
eviscerated underbelly—
no one tells you
that you will feel
embarrassed, like some grandstanding
drama-queen
with an agent desperately gushing
flammable indulgences
trying to land you
gigs.
And so you crawl through
shattered glass and twisted metal,
searching for some lost
lyrics
to a song that was playing before
the impact.
Hopping up to your feet
you are greeted by strangers rushing to
see you
as if you are the most important person
in the upside-down world,
like a Star Baseball Player
striking the home-run to win the game,
only the bat is a car
and the ball is your
head,
adrenaline making a
manic muppet of you,
your limbs trembling wildly as you
stand aside from the aftermath
as if you weren’t at the center of it
and glancing back at your new
compact car
with gasoline threading down
upon a large book,
a Philosophy Encyclopedia
that you glanced through occasionally,
as if in search of the meaning of
Life, and now this scene of
Near-Death
pissing gasoline
all over its platitudes.
And then you look down and see
that you have been jostled, hustled,
shaken down
straight out of your brand new shoes,
walking on coolant-kissed asphalt
in damp Christmas socks
while the paramedics spread around you like
gauze around a bleeding wound,
strapping you down to a board
like a broken leg to a splint
and lifting you into an ambulance,
speeding down the interstate
to take you to the
amniotic surrealism
of the antiseptic,
bleached, blank
ER
where the ritual of
medicine
is conducted between long hours of
waiting and
wondering and
pain, they
discharge you, a healthy
human specimen no longer
interesting, and so no more
in need of their godly powers.

Adjusters are called in,
eventually,
for insurance claims
and skeletal frames,
and the towing company
vultures
swoop in, crouching upon your
ruined car, pecking at your
pockets for more cash,
more life, whatever remains
after the impact
of which you were victim
and they, now, the new
predators.
You feel like the Fool Card
strolling alongside a scenic path
only to be shoved from behind
by the Devil Card
into a gaping gorge
that you could not see before.
Later, after you have sacrificed enough
blood-money
to the vultures
and you retrieve your car,
you find odd things remaining
in the wreckage of
yesterday:
you find “The Fragile”
by NIN,
and
“The Audacity Of Hope”
by Barack Obama
and you find
“Nights From The Alhambra”
by Loreena Mckennitt,
and a collection of HP Lovecraft stories,
and a collection of MR James stories.
Poor Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar
does not survive, but
seeks oblivion as she
always had.
The handgun your father gave you
survives the collapsed
accordion trunk,
but all of your
sissy-ass coconut water cans
have erupted in an orgy to celebrate the
End-Times.
And, with great sadness, you find that your
cheery-cheeked, chubbily-grinning
Bodhisattva
has gone on to Nirvana
at long last,
taking with him his
price tag
which you left on his plastic bottom
for the love of
irony.
And, beyondhand,
comes a day divinely warm
stolen from Winter when
Summer
cheated at a game of
poker,
and you lay in your fiancee’s arms
while she cries and holds you to her
heart
and you think
“How would I like my death?
Scrambled
or over easy?”

Punctuation Marks

Poetry,
for him,
consisted of
impactful observations
which struck sharply upon mortality,
punctuating
like roadkill
here and there
the highway of life
to remind us of the
inevitable
end of the road,
and, so,
provoking our sympathies
for, and from,
what we will all become
as Death’s eighteen-wheeler
eventually overtakes us.

Roadkill On The Wayside Of Mt. Moriah

The buck lay in the flooded ditch line,
his guts ruptured like the haggard hull
of a ship that had, by storm, struck a mine
and capsized, now half-sunken in the lull.
His ribs were splintered timbers splayed
while the dark water lay flat and dead,
stagnant as the stench his body made
while maggots grew like barnacles abed.
And lording over these spoils of war
like a carrion pirate over stolen treasure,
a opossum clambered up from the grassy shore
and ate to surfeit of flotsam pleasure.

Three More Rhymes

Like Father, Like Son
Cain, thus, was banished to the land of Nod
for having slain his nearest, dearest kin
in wrathful jealousy, alike to God—
emulation being the greatest sin.

The Trick Called Civilization
The mad jester kept the chainsaws spinning,
fumbling their juggle with nary a frown
as he lost fingers with each catch, grinning
until it all, at last, came crashing down.

Hunter’s Mark
Death is a master hunter, both patient and grim,
whose skills cannot be countered, or even reckoned,
and each of us is marked—a trophy of his whim,
an arrow notched for our final hour, down to the last second.