Pulled Sane Through a Nostril of the Co(s)mic Noggin
My kite-string tether to this world
may yet convince me otherwise,
but in the sun’s unstrung fingers
the pink lens of my corpse refracts
light, mothers the synaptic gate
branching beyond the first green
shoot of maple. Like the drying
third coat of maroon paint
on my bicycle, the rusted one
my father found in a dumpster
and fixed up like a rich kid’s
then backed over in his station
wagon when I accidentally left it
at the bottom of the driveway,
the swift death of a broken bike
can pull everything through
you, like cemetery trees, green
from chloroplasts flocking
their capillaries, galactic pop
of sinus pressure. Sunlit spokes
bent, I cry myself molecular.
Finish Line Drummer
I waver at the flapping banners
of the Blue-Sky Marathon, pounding
out each runner’s return to the start,
flailing waveform resolved into collapse
like some heliotropic flower, final shift
for the incoming warmth, stillness
a drift from the window of my cadence
into the neurological tangle of suns
invented by a child’s runaway balloon
called My History, until I’m gone
again on this solitary ocean’s nodding raft
without compass, discarded language
passing through some imaginary self
to who can say where or when, prismatic
imprint of unknowing, wild geese above
flying V-patterns thru clean blue air.
Bobby Parrott was obviously placed on this planet in error. In his own words, “The intentions of trees are a form of loneliness we climb like a ladder.” His poems appear or are forthcoming in Spoon River, RHINO Poetry, Rumble Fish Quarterly, Atticus Review, The Hopper, Rabid Oak, and elsewhere. He currently finds himself immersed in a forest-spun jacket of toy dirigibles, dreaming himself out of formlessness in the chartreuse meditation capsule called Fort Collins, Colorado where he lives with his house plant Zebrina, and his wind-up robot Nordstrom.
CALIFORNIA DREAM EATER
My life is a patchwork of odd jobs. I can shoe a horse, I can drive cattle. I can build any kinda structure you like, and I can sure as hell bend over and pick berries for as long as you need me to. In the winter I’m broke and in the summer I’m pretty well-off, though I know a lotta people would laugh at my idea of well-off.
My idea of it is a roof over my head, and enough distance from my past that I can stop thinking about it. Any further away, I’d have to confront it. California is a real sweet spot. I have a two bed apartment that I track dust and dirt into six days a week. Formica cabinets, a washed out, sickly yellow; table and chairs to match. Woodwormy staircase leading up to it. A bed frame with springs that scream when I roll over in the night. Nothing on the walls save for a couple photographs I tacked up, and my dog tags. Hanging there on the end of a nail, driven deep into the plasterboard.
After the military, comfort doesn’t really mean the same thing it used to. So it’s fine, for me. I know some of the fellas at work would kill for a place like mine.
I cash my check on Friday and buy a quart of whiskey with it. My cosy little routine. Some people are probably meeting up with friends, girlfriends, eating nice meals and laughing. California sun in their teeth. Me? I’m clipping my nails and keeping company with old Jim Beam. Feet up on the coffee table, radio droning, the whole building groaning and sighing and settling now the sun’s off it.
In California, sadness don’t make sense. Everything’s so fucking sunnyshinynew and idyllic. The crash of waves out in Big Sur, blue like the sky, which is blue like the sea; frothing and foaming up on jagged black rocks. The winding long roads you can whip down at ninety and leave your stomach and your sadness behind. I’m bored of it. Three years here and I’m sick to death of it.
There’s a song on the radio that reminds me of summer, 1967. I lean forward with a grunt to switch stations, and then scoop the half-moons of fingernail into my palm, pace the length of the room to toss them in the trash.
Outside, the light has faded fast. All I can see are the black silhouettes of pines rising over the roofs, the navy-blue sky crisscrossed with telephone wires. Across the way, a light comes on, and a man becomes framed by his window. I watch him for a while, wondering if he’ll look over and spot me, but he never does. Talking and laughing, smiling over his shoulder at some invisible person. I feel weird and ugly and drunk as I watch the show. The thing about California is that everything feels like an act. I start wondering if he’s really so happy, and then that has me wondering if I’m really so sad. Even after the light goes out and he exits, stage right, I’m still standing there thinking about it.
Thinking, what does everyone else know that I don’t? Edging my newly-clipped nails at the join between window and wall, the chipping paint there. How come he can act happy and I can’t? After a while, pretending becomes real. If you really believe something, it’s true. Even if nobody else believes it.
My reflection is a ghostly half-person on the windowpane. I grin at him. He bares his teeth back.
YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE BAD GUYS DO?
She sits close to me, the splintering fence creaking under our weight, under all the heavy sidelong looks and twitches of sore fingers and toes. So close that I can feel the heat of her side, even through the heavy denim of her shirt and jeans. Radiating out of her like a flame; like she’s the wick — I guess I’m the oil.
“Weren’t the hardest fall today,” she says, thoughtfully. Under the shadow of her hat, her pale eyes are screwed up and watery.
“Shortest time,” I say miserably, and pick at a piece of fringe on my muddy chaps.
Whenever I move, I shed a flaky second skin of mud. It’s caked all up my side, turning pale in the sun, and underneath I know a bruise is beginning to bloom. I can feel it: my skin feels tender, my bones beneath it creaky and sore. She watched me eat shit but still came to sit next to me, to bend the same strip of old fence. Her knee is touching mine. A cigarette dangles unlit from her mouth. My shoulder aches from the impact.
“Still, Sarah. Weren’t the hardest fall.”
I know what she’s trying to say. But it isn’t the comfort she thinks it is, or at least it’s not the comfort I need right now — muddied, my pride hurting more than the shoulder I landed on. So I don’t say anything, and neither does she. Just wipes at her watery eyes, and lights herself that cigarette.
There’s no real silence at a rodeo. What spills in to bridge the gap in our talking is crowd-noise; hollering, stamping, the bark and whine of the tannoy. She lights her cigarette. I press my cheek to my shoulder and squint off across the paddock. Nearby a teenager is leading a pretty little bay mare in broad, meandering circles. I watch it for a while, letting the last of the adrenaline from the ride soak out of me into my clothes. At our backs, the crowd is roaring: my fall already long-forgotten, lost to the excitement of the day. No place for middle of the road riding here. The crowd either want blood and guts or glory, and I gave them neither.
The wind changes direction. Sends her hair blowing wispy and dirty blonde across my face, where it tickles me like spider legs. Sends the roar of the crowd the other way, so for a moment we exist in a tiny pocket of almost-silence.
“It’d hurt me if you got hurt,” she says, into that little bubble of quiet. I don’t reply, because I don’t think she wants me to. She adds, “D’you hear me?” but it’s rhetorical. She knows the things I consider, just to get the crowd on my side.
The mare is being coaxed into a trot. I watch dust puff up from its hooves every time they touch the dry ground. Reminds me of cowboy movies, when they’d shoot at the bad guys’ feet to get them moving. “I’d never do anything,” I mutter, looking down at our dangling feet. Her boots are hooked at the heel over a rung on the fence. Her knee is still touching mine. “I just think about it, sometimes.”
Alice Rogers is a writer and artist from West Wales. They like to write stories about disconnect: from self, from others, from time and place. Their work appears in Reflex Press, Superfoot, Capsule Stories, and Barren Magazine. Find them on Twitter @dimecharm.
for the soup to find
a way down, we had
to chop more carrots
than seemed wise. I said,
should we not save
a pair for the weekend?
So too with the onions—
each lifted from the copper
basket and spelled out
in German, Norwegian,
shoemaker’s Greek. All
entered the broth, floated
and sank into the stink
of mushrooms. Lisped hay-
tang, mossed oakroot,
bark-rot. All night
the cauldron burned
low, electric. When
you woke me early
with worry, we lay
to know, could I
how to bake
bread, how to parcel
out helpings, how
to seal our lids? In
the morning, I
said, when we wake
to the office, spoon
three weeks’ wages
and toss the rest.
James Miller (he/him) is a native of the Texas Gulf Coast. He is published in Best Small Fictions 2021 (Sonder Press) and in the Marvelous Verses anthology (Daily Drunk Press). Recent pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Kissing Dynamite, On the Seawall, Phoebe, Yemassee, Elsewhere, West Trade Review, Sledgehammer Lit, Neologism, Press Pause, Coal Hill Review, The Shore, and Indianapolis Review. Follow on Twitter @AndrewM1621.