My chapbook of thirteen word horror stories, The Book of Thirteen, with illustrations by Ted Chevalier, is now available from Yes Poetry Press.
You may order a copy directly from the publisher... if you dare.
My chapbook of thirteen word horror stories, The Book of Thirteen, with illustrations by Ted Chevalier, is now available from Yes Poetry Press.
You may order a copy directly from the publisher... if you dare.
Wither Speaking Picture? It seems no one bothers to visit blogs anymore; no one can be bothered to click over from whatever social media platform they're currently scrolling through. So I've decided to swing with a subscription model for my varied writing, Reports from the Phantastikon, a weekly bulletin (sent out every Wednesday) of poems in prose and verse, flash fictions, reviews, critical commentary, aphorisms, feuilletons, satires, cri de coeurs, crackpot ideas, and strange stories that may or may not be dreams within dreams, all of which will wing their way into your email inbox, where you can ignore them at your peril, since Tiny Letter shows me exaclty who opens the emails (mwahahaha). But if you like this sort of thing, and look forward to writings sent directly to you for your perusal, you can sign up right here.
If you scroll down to the next entry, you'll see it was posted in February 2010. Does this mean Speaking Picture has been fallow these past five years, yet another abandoned website in the digital haze? Not exactly. For four Aprils in a row (2011-2014), I did the NaPoWriMo challenge, writing a poem a day and posting it here with an accompanying image. All those poems have since been revised; the earlier drafts that lived here on the site have been taken down so they can appear elsewhere, in literary journals or a book or on the backs of the stained and crumpled envelopes that will doubtless be found in the pockets of my unclaimed corpse (haha, I kid... I would never write on the back of a stained envelope). Hence the gap. Whether 2015 brings another round of NaPoWriMo still remains to be seen.
Speaking of publications, The Operating System published a chapbook of my poems in April of 2014, Spooky Action at a Distance. It's available from the publisher here.
I'm slightly stunned to realize that I published more poems in 2014 than in any previous year. In addition to poems that appeared in the print journals Strangelet, Stoneboat, Noctua Review and Flush'd, there were all these that appeared online:
Really System published "Satan's Skull Glows White Hot."
The Lake published "The Hive."
Cider Press Review published "And the Lamb, But Only Much Later."
The Leopard Seal published "Rungs."
Ithaca Lit published "Ode to the Flux Capacitor" and "H."
Ricochet Magazine published "Fast Song" and "Disaster Song."
Fruita Pulp published "Unfinished" and "Waiting for the Great Pumpkin."
The Dos Passos Review published "My Father's Ghost."
Cartagena Review published "And Starring Lee Harvey Oswald as the 13th Doctor."
The Squawk Back published "Market Rate" and "Siri, Where are the Snows of Yesteryear?"
Behemoth Review published "Comes Autumn With Her Serenade."
Killer Whale Journal published "Category Three."
Josephine Quarterly published "Runaway Tire Checks into Hotel Conference Room."
And now I believe we're all up to date. Watch this space for... well, who knows.
As much as he had enjoyed the notion spending the whole day inside, Cross knew by that afternoon that he couldn’t let the snowstorm pass without going out into it. The next day would dawn beautifully, a world of white gleaming in sunlight, and then would almost instantly turn into an urban gray slush that clutched at ankles like the icy grip of the damned. Besides, now that he was ensconced in semi-suburban Riverdale, the snowy city would be lovelier than usual, so out he went.
Walking down the path, Cross nearly ran smack into a pine bough that usually wasn’t there; it dipped down under the snow’s weight, a curtain of dark green and white that he ducked under with the momentary sensation of one of the winter forests of his childhood. More than a foot of snow had fallen, and was still coming down in big wet flakes, their celebrated individuality obliterated the moment they came into contact with the world. Cross trudged up to the parkway, toward the lattice of frosted branches, white on black, that covered the horizon, broken here and there by one of the 1950s era apartment towers that seemed so incongruous amidst the small houses and large stone mansions that dotted the neighborhood.
Cross was still slightly stunned that Brooklyn had given way so easily to the Bronx, but more and more he gave himself over to flux, change itself the only change anyone could believe in. Even as the future assumed a pleasing shape (much like the Devil, who also lurked, per the cliché, in all the details of that future), Cross felt content to live day by day. He was, after all, taking at least one day back for every day that he had lost over the course of twenty months.
(He had almost thought stolen before mentally crossing it out and thinking lost, for he had been complicit in those days, those moments, all trailing behind like a wake now). By May he would have all of them back.
He stopped and stepped aside, out of his thoughts and into the snowbank, to let a woman on skis pass; she was smiling, out of breath. Beyond her a man pushed a snowplow, and another appeared suddenly with a shovel over his shoulder. Cross silently thanked them for making his walk possible; his snow boots had been one of the casualties of the move back uptown. As the woman passed, her legs and arms scissoring, Cross remembered Winter Camp, and his utter inability to cross-country ski. His skiing was so maladroit that soon he was far, far behind the rest of the campers. He vividly remembered looking up from his shuffling, scuffling labors and being alone on the trail, and feeling simultaneously frustrated with his complete lack of athletic ability and secretly pleased at the solitude it suddenly afforded, his snowsuit suddenly as bulky as an spacesuit, the winter white flecked with black like a negative of the starry void.
It was cold. Cross walked down to the Bell Tower, crossing over the Parkway and making his way down Riverdale Drive. He thought for a moment of walking to Ewan Park and watching what would doubtless be a whole fleet of sleds careening down the park’s steep slope, but knew he would only get as far as Salvatore’s and a cup of hot chocolate.
In the drifting snow, the Bell Tower, its sides inscribed with the names of war dead forgotten along with those who mourned them, stood like a lovely old ruin of some kind. It stood on a traffic island and spent its hours, day and night, as a sort of stark Maypole for traffic; Cross’ bus swung by it daily. It was a landmark, but the sort of landmark that everyone used for navigation. Cross doubted many every really saw it, except at the holidays when a forlorn Christmas tree and neon menorah stood at the foot of it. It put Cross in mind of the Beaumont Tower on the campus of Michigan State.
Cross stood still for a moment, letting the snow alight. So much of winter was tied up in childhood now—snow, he had come to realize, represented the lost world of his childhood and his parents, and beyond that his grandparents, great-grandparents, people for whom the Mojave Desert would have been as exotic as the Sahara. It represented not only Michigan but New York, the upstate world of Syracuse and Port Byron where distant relatives perhaps still lived. And enough snow to cover them all, thought Cross to himself.
Outside of Salvatore’s, a young boy, bundled but not too bundled, was methodically packing a snowball in his fists; Cross felt his own palms tingle at the memory of doing the same, and he remembered, too, Bill Cosby’s snowball routine on Revenge, an album that Cross had listened to on many a snow day as a child, to the point where he could likely still recite the whole routine himself. As Cross made his way across Riverdale Avenue, he half hoped his hat would provide a target, but the boy, having shaped the snowball to his apparent satisfaction, suddenly let it crumble, dropping it to the salted sidewalk. And my mother had thrown the snowball away…
Cross’ father had been one of the counselors that year at Winter Camp. Each counselor was assigned a half dozen campers and a cabin, and the fact that Cross had escaped being assigned to his father’s cabin was almost proof of a higher power. Later, he discovered that all the boys in his father’s cabin thought his dad was great: he had led them on a raid of the cafeteria after hours to steal extra rice crispy treats, and told them endless ghost stories after lights out. Cross had great difficulty reconciling this fun character with his irritable and irritated father and wondered if not getting assigned to that cabin had been such a blessing after all.
As Cross settled into the warmth of Salvatore’s, the red-checked tablecloths somehow adding to that warmth, he also remembered his father putting him on a child’s snowmobile (it seems they had such things in 1970s Michigan) at the age of six, and how it had shot off across an icy parking lot the moment the ignition had been turned. He remembered his father laughing as he cried, and why not? No harm done. But after that he had ridden solely on the back when his parents had taken their snowmobiles out, their roar cutting though those winter landscapes, turning them into extraordinarily loud silent movies. He remembered, too, walking out on the ice on Blue Lake, and his foot going through an iced over ice fishing hole, his leg plunging into the chilled black water all the way up to his thigh, and his father’s arms under his own, pulling him out. What if the ice around that hole had suddenly cracked, Cross thought, looking out the window as the snowplow came by, pushing all this winter wonderland ahead of it like so much trash.
It occurred to Cross that living in seasons again, these last few years, had strangely heightened that feeling of living in the moment: the season had become the place to locate that moment in. Summer moments, winter moments, autumn moments. The years in the desert now felt weirdly outside of time, though the subtle seasons there, too, affixed the days. Cross knew it was raining in Vegas even as the snow was falling over New York, and he knew the smell of the desert after it rained, that pleasurable mixture of sage and mustiness, held fast any number of memories. He suddenly saw his father’s face as he stood in the driveway of the ranch, the setting sun making him squint.
Cross saw, too, that those memories were crowded with many faces. Winter, however, and winter dreams, were solitudes, even when others were there—amidst the snow, you felt as if you were the only person in the world. It focused the mind somehow, the snowy landscape, and not because of that trope about how the freshly fallen snow was so clean, how it had somehow cleansed the world—the dirty old world was right there underneath it, waiting for the sun—but because it had transformed the world into an intimation of silence. Even the shovelers and snowblowers and snowplows perhaps sensed this, and their resentment at having to clear the world had less to do with toil and more to do with a fear of that silence. And it wasn’t that such silence was some intimation of death, of oblivion (though it could be, and perhaps was feared to be) but of eternity: the silence of being outside of time, of perpetual waiting for something that had already happened.
Which actually, come to think of it, was a pretty good definition of death. Life, however, was hot chocolate. Cross took a sip, and then another, sitting alone at a table by the window, watching the snow drift down as the sky darkened.
—I fear that old line about Vegas has finally seeped into this event, said Jack as he popped another piece of Nicorette gum in his mouth.
—What’s that? asked Ray as he watched a desultory parade of what passed for hipsters wend its way past them.
—Las Vegas is the only place where you can have a good time without actually enjoying yourself, said Jack. He smiled without mirth, his eyes doubtless rimmed in red behind his smoky-dark prescription sunglasses.
—Attributed to Jack Carter, I believe, said Ray.
—Well, it’s Jack Samson’s now, replied Jack with a smack.
They were standing on the corner, just down the block from the Sugar Shack antique store. The sun was going down, and the light glinted off Jack’s glasses while Ray shielded his eyes and looked up the street. It was the monthly gallery crawl, which more or less functioned as the monthly see and be seen, drink free wine while ignoring the art, wander in and out of the bars, get drunk by the time the bands go on, wake with a hangover crawl as well. Vendors had set up booths of various kinds up and down the streets, but the scattered clots of crawlers didn’t stop at most of them long enough to register whatever (beaded purses, scrap-metal sculptures, self-published thrillers) was for sale. In other words, not much had changed since the last time Ray had been in town, except for new names on the galleries, new studios in place of those who’d given up the art ghost and moved on, new bands reconfigured from old ones, now playing in the same dozen bars (only the DJs seemed eternal).
Still, Ray felt obliged to check in whenever he was here, if for no other reason than to say hello to old friends (well, old acquaintances, mostly). Jack, who by now had nothing but scorn for the ‘farts district,’ would only indulge him for so long before pulling him away for drinks at the Chimera (the only bar downtown that steadfastly refused both video poker and live music, thus endearing it to Jack, who reviewed concerts for a living and didn’t need, as he put it, to watch shitheads stumble around four chords on his nights off). Then again, Jack still lived here. Ray was just a visitor these days.
—Can you believe somebody put hours and hours of their time into that?
Ray knew it was a rhetorical question, but he turned to look anyway and followed Jack’s gaze through the windows of a little storefront gallery where huge abstract canvases slathered in paint simultaneously drew the eye in and spit it out. Jack shook his head.
—At least a mediocre guitar player in a bar band might get laid for his troubles, said Jack.
—You’d be surprised how easily painters get laid, said Ray.
—That’s only because you used to sleep with one.
—True, said Ray. But it wasn’t exactly easy.
Jack looked up the avenue, where the galleries were mixed with Mexican furniture stores; a giant, plaster head of David sat out on the sidewalk, glancing back at Ray and Jack with a what looked like a look of desperate, befuddled hope and dawning resignation.
—Is that replica of David still inside Caesars? asked Ray.
—Christ, who knows. I haven’t been inside that part of Caesars in years. I wouldn’t even have been in the Forum addition yet if I hadn’t been lingerie shopping for Delia.
—One more round, Delia’s gone, one more round, sang Ray in a low voice.
—She’ll be back, said Jack with a shrug. And wearing the lingerie, too.
Ray very much doubted that Delia would be back, but if she did reappear in Jack’s life it was likely to be without a dime and on the run from somebody; she likely wouldn’t have anything left but the fancy lingerie. But that was Jack’s way of keeping himself intact—he dated crazy and used crazy as an excuse not to get too close. That much hadn’t changed.
—Listen, said Ray, we should just go over to the Bomb and see what Nadia has up on the walls and then we can go hit the Chimera.
—Ah, said Jack with a smile, I forgot to tell you: the Bomb is gone.
—What? Really? How is that possible? When did it close?
—Oh, it didn’t close—just moved. Nadia moved it to LA. Said the market had gone from soft to melted here. Jack jerked his thumb at a crowd of teenagers making noise in front of one of the booths. Can you blame her? Look at who shows up now—the same, tired, hundred art mavens and a ton of broke-ass kids who just want to have something to do.
—Well, sure, said Ray. If this had existed when we were in high school, we would have been hanging out here. But Jack wasn’t listening; he’d launched into an air guitar version of “I Just Want to Have Something to Do,” his arms slung low like Dee Dee Ramone as he fingered imaginary bass frets.
—Toooo night... to-oo-night... well, all riiiiiiiiiiiiight....
—Hey, Ray! called a voice. In the setting sun, a t-shirted mass approached. Ray looked up into the bug eyes of The Mann. Inevitably, he saw The Mann whenever he was in town; inevitably, the conversation went like this:
—How’s tricks, Ray?
—Well, you know, I gotta get a bigger hat.
—Hah! Again? But that trick never works! Hah!
—That joke isn’t funny anymore, sang Jack under his breath.
—You still with the station, Mann?
—You know it, somebody has to teach the children about rock n’ roll. Hey, I want you to meet someone. Someone stepped out of the bulk that was Nicholas Mann; a tiny woman about their age, with a black pixie cut and trendy glasses.
—This is Angelica, my girl, said Mann. You won’t believe this, but she went to Western same time as me, and we didn’t know each other at all—not at all! And then we met here!
—Here? said Jack. On the corner? I thought the girls worked farther east.
—Hah hah! Hey, this is Ray Sands, the magician.
Angelica gave out a little squeal. —I used to take my kids to that afternoon show you had, years and years ago!
Ray smiled and assumed the face he was long used to assuming, but Jack gave a short little laugh. —That was almost twenty years ago. Pop out a couple with your high school sweetheart, did you?
—Hah! Angie, this is Jack Samson.
—No way! Of Samson’s Army?
Jack winced a little. —No, no. Different Samson. Completely different Samson.
—I loved Samson’s Army! burbled Angelica. I’m older than I look, hah?
—You look perfect to me! said Mann, giving her a squeeze. Jack used to be a DJ with me, back in the day.
—I was never ‘with’ you, Mann, said Jack. I only orbited you. Whenever I got to the far side, I played a few records before gravity shot me back around.
Mann laughed in the way of someone so used to being big it barely registers. But Ray remembered Mann at nineteen, crying over an empty bottle of vodka at a party, his thick legs somehow stuffed through the bars of an apartment balcony, after a good half-hour of jokes at his expense. Mann didn’t lose his virginity until years later, when his impeccable geek credentials at long last outweighed his literal weight during the improbable rise of geek chic in the 1990s. Mann found his groove and had worked it, Ray thought to himself, into a nice, deep, comfortable trench from which he could laugh off anything.
—Hey, you guys should come to the show, said Mann, completing the encounter in the only way an encounter with him could end, with a flier in your hand. These guys are from Portland, and they’re really awesome, like Yo La Tengo meets Animal Collective.
—Sorry, Mann, said Jack, but we’re going to have a really awesome evening where bourbon meets my tongue.
They exchanged good-byes, nice to meet you’s, nothing up my sleeve, prestos. As they disappeared into the milling crowd, Jack cackled.
—There goes a Mann, he said. How does he manage to push forty and still be like that?
—He’s happy, said Ray, simply, staring after Mann’s bulk, his girlfriend like a toy poodle under his arm. Jack snorted.
—Everything changes, nothing changes. Two steps forward, five steps back. All these artsy bars and attempts at galleries, and the Shangri-La Telegraph Office is still an empty lot, a bulldozed fucking lot. And Mann’s happy as a big, loud, clueless clam.
Ray smiled without looking at Jack. —And you’re still here, he said.
Jack didn’t look at him either. —And you still keep coming back, even though you’ll never work this town again.
—Well, said Ray, as he turned and began walking down the sidewalk, toward David’s empty, bewildered eyes (bewildered at their emptiness? Or empty because bewildered?) You can only disappear so many times.
—Or just the once, said Jack, spitting out his gum.
Cross wondered, often, if his heart was black because it was charred or black because the poison had done its slow, relentless work. He didn't like to think it was only black from all the ink, but in the moments of honesty that piled up, week to week, like newspapers on the porch of a haunted house, he had to admit the possibility.
Why was he so reluctant, so resistant? Because that would mean it was all still a state of being mediated by words and nothing more, Cross replied to the mirror that refused to show him anything but his own reflection. Cross didn't want to feel literary (isn't that why nothing would come of late, no work, no matter how insistent its tapping at his--ah, can't resist--chamber door?). But Cross didn't want to feel literal, either: as if something really had been altered, fundamentally, and wasn't just a hostage to the time that healed all wounds... except the wound made by time itself.
Cross kicked himself now and then, like Dr. Johnson kicking that stone, and refuted his own sense of abstraction. He didn't want to only be alive in words, but he didn't want to be dead to them... Thinking of Johnson made him think of Beckett, of course. Language was indeed a veil, and he was tired of veils, tired of the perfect logic and reasonableness of veils, the Grand Unified Theory that was a veil upon a veil upon a veil...
One must speak through a mask, through a persona. Was that Yeats? Cross could have looked it up, typing the words into the magic window that seemed to bring all of existence to him while simultaneously holding it at bay. Instead, Cross looked out again through the mundane window, the one that gathered darkening blue in the still bare branches of the tree outside, and the sounds of cars hissing by the reservoir that was now too black to admit any light. Language seems a poor revenge, thought Cross, but he'd had that thought before. Thousands had that thought before; hadn't done them a bit of good either.
Cross looked at the scattered thoughts in his notebook, trying to move forward while something within (surely not his heart, whatever it's real color) just as insistently held him back. Seriousness is often mistaken for pretentiousness, the way you mistake the face of a distant figure for a mask when it is indeed their face, their only face. Cross looked out the window again, and sat still for a while. He had only to switch on the light to see his own face, strange and comforting, peering back at him from the oncoming night.