Cryogenic days behind us, we slurp coffee in the big room. Mounted heads of elk, moose, lion, and sperm whale loom in disapproval. How can we concentrate on math problems when stones crack in thawing stream beds and redwing blackbirds chirp above marshland strewn with human debris? So many regrets. Remember your children pouting because the ice cream man repented his perversions? Recall the moment the Pope surrendered the armies of the Vatican to a squad of deserters hiding in Canada? Pity the creatures who slime after us with their whip-tails shining. They and only they shall inherit the primordial ooze from which lawyers, ringmasters, and pharmacists evolve. The rest of us have to drink the dregs, wash them down with coffee, then gradually return to those cryogenic days when happiness seemed an honor, not a chore. DON’T SWALLOW THAT PHONE
Such a grimace. iPhone stuck in your teeth, the cops beating a man, beating and beating as his bodily fluids roar. The street glistens. The street curls a great tongue. It tisk-tisks us, and a photograph will appear online tomorrow, naming us co-defendants. A jackhammer stabs at an open sore. No apologies, only the rat-a-tat and cough of shards. Your grimace annoys the cops. They’ll knock that phone from your mouth if you hang around too long staring. How can you prep yourself for the longueurs to come? Look at Douglas in the corner, plying his manuscript in public. The cops wouldn’t dream of beating him, his smile so beatific it will outlive him by many decades. No, don’t swallow that phone. How will I then undeceive you when we’re safely and gladly alone?
RED OR BLUE BINDINGS
Ceiling tile two shades of beige, white asphalt flooring. Round tables. Voices flicker and disintegrate. Tinny contemporary jazz pipes through the plumbing. I slurp my coffee loudly enough to flush the ghosts, but the crick in my neck won’t abate. Soon I’ll curve on myself like space and time. Gravity, although weak, always wins. Sad old stories about toddlers falling from high windows, climbers tumbling backward off cliffs. The books in the mezzanine stacks, well out of reach, look unreadable in their tough red or blue library bindings. If I tried to read one I’d disturb a sleeping bat. It would unfurl like the Canadian flag and flutter about the room until it landed in the hair of that tough old woman sorting through her shopping bags. She wouldn’t bother to slap it away. More important to assess her take from the trash cans and dumpsters she visits daily. The smell of coffee ripples from one table to the next. No one bothers to read those red or blue books, although someone went mad rebinding them. That crazed spirit flutters around the room just above our heads, but no one notices or cares. GREEN CLOTH BAG
In the courtyard a squall of children ruptures the scholarly mood. Brown brick stands aloof. The windows, deeply framed like portraits of God, look blank enough to absorb the entire spectrum. The voices hurt. They rend the social contract lengthwise, as if making papier maché.
The book I was hoping to read sulks in my green cloth bag. No one has read this book in many years. Its narrative bleaks like an ice shelf. Its characters wrestle each other into submission, then lie panting in the mist. I slam the book shut so firmly it crushes my fingers. Now I’m web-pawed, and can paddle with a limp across the Atlantic if I choose.
The yellow light pouring down the brick walls pools in scummy blotches. The famous Saint-Gaudens nude romps: another character, another story. I brace myself against the screams of the children and launch into space, swinging my green bag like a weapon, clearing a path up and among overhanging skyscrapers. From this height the rioting children and characters in my unread book mingle in a single twelve-tone concerto—dissonance a virtue I can now afford.
William Doreski has published poetry and fiction in various journals and in creepy little small press books no one has ever read.