Samuel Unwin

stick in ice

I had only wanted to fuck, split wood, and talk. I hadn’t been interested or concerned with new restaurants, cake recipes, and donating clothes and broken unwanted watches to the local chapter of Good Will. Adding chromium to iron to have made it withstand becoming rusty, or the southward or northward ice floes on the estuary besides which I had lived—matters at hand such as these, or the pathetic death of Christopher Marlowe; or the adding of the dropping of the letter “e” in Joseph Conrad’s short tale Youth when spelling “Marlow,” and how this alone signified all writing, and signified all speaking, these were the clouds of things that drifted and hung forever in my brow and stayed there. And women whose unclothed bodies were strong, who had over the calenderic years that in the end will take us all down before our brains’ wild magic has given away its own mystery to nothingness, I had been like a tumbling jester reveling in the freedom only he is permitted—so outrageously—in the presence of the Royal Court and all its retinue, ever happy beside theirs clutching my tawny and muscular nakedness. Between each swinging throw of my axe, there had been a thousand thoughts arisen, and when the blade fell against the sawn length of timber, another adventure’s telling had been with the wood’s cracking into pieces gladly destroyed. My mind’s simplification, like a map whose borders can be drawn distinguishing all territories from another with any three chosen colors, had been reaching the frontiers of its own natural limits. It had been nearly as perfect as it could become, the way a single floating seed aloft is carried elsewhere by the present and unseen wind is also perfect in another way.

Hugh Salzmann

picnic in field grainy

Few things had given me pleasure more pleasurable than to watch all my mercies and all my crimes be in passing or be plowed away. The singularity of my pettiness, the careful slip-off tools of my trade, amused me as much as were I had been both Sultan and Scheherazade. I had been pleased with myself to no end, stashing my gear in a hole so deep and so forlorn I might myself someday be loath to pull it out into our diurnal world ever again. And between the careful stirring of pure black oil sunflower seeds with another mixed sack of wild feed by hand, blending them together in a five gallon bucket for the hungering winter birds, in addition to my woolen apparel befitting the country habits of a simple but comfortable squire, I was as inculpable to all eyes as the blighted Mexican nobleman Archibaldo de la Cruz. Even the thought of sirens at my drive had not increased my resting pulse more than one or at most two beats. No, it had been a great beauty born to watch my footprints become erased by both nature and machine which had otherwise provided the absolute clues to my perfidy, chronic and perennial, those now forever vanished snowy boot marks leading thither and back. The kind hammer’s tapping in of an elderly lady’s postal number having fallen off its little roadside plaque across the way from my home during the past springtime, with a hardware purchase from a package of shining brass escutcheon pins, needing only three, not counting the one I had dropped and lost on the ground, it was the perfect cover, and an exercise in patience, a plotting of neighborly character that had already gone back three years’ time. And galloping lunatic downhill through the white soft woodland powder, I imagined all sorts of terrible things that were to have become my life had the faraway sirens I had overheard in the village’s distance become nearer and nearer. Most anarchists worth their salt are the true aristocrats of the great Earth; I am no exception to this rule. We love to create inexplicable chaos against authorities that would, like a pack of well-trained dogs, hem us in, if caught; and truly love the untouched bounty of the land which nature freely bestows upon us all—all women & men, all lovers & ex-lovers, and all erring children who wander on their own, as is their birthright. At length, my own true protection, my own safeguard against eventual capture, more than my vast caution, had been my steady recollection that beneath my own well-kept fingernails was just ordinary dirt.

Malin Konig Lubenthal

nordic village

I had come from a family of ironists. I was the only three-leaf clover in it. The rest of them were off on some exploration, either to find or to lose themselves. They would travel. To Madagascar. To South Korea. To Denmark. To California. To Alberta. To the Galapagos. To Lhasa. To Nova Scotia. To the Yucatan. It was all some sort of clover-pulling, a worldwide hunt for something a little different, a little vain, a little less known. It was some sort of pretend game of Marco Polo that I never bought into. So I was never the same. I was, as they said, “born without shoes,” which meant that I did not go, I did not travel, I was not fit to travel or go anywhere because, as the idiom goes, I had no leather shoes upon my feet to protect them and to be able to do so. So I stayed at home and was considered by my immediate kind unworldly and provincial. I had been the kind of person who marked time by an ax. By this I had meant only that I followed the natural course of the seasons. There were seasons to chop wood. There were seasons to chop down a tree. There were seasons to lay the blade into a stump. There were seasons to lay it in the corner of the shed. That’s what I meant. The way it worked—irony—was to pretend either in person or in letter that you were just a bit dumber or a bit more stupid than you were in actual life; or, if nobody around could guess it, then just you yourself in your inner, personal life would do it. Only you would know. And most of the time that’s how they were. Once, after a minor operation, when I went to visit my own father in the hospital, he lay with his hands clasped together around a rose in the middle of his chest with his eyes closed in his bed. Then opened them and spoke to me. Like that. I had always been the “I can go on, I must go on” type; they were the “I can’t go on, I’ll go on type.” I was as dumb or as smart as my thumbprint on a Coke bottle. My breath was the fog blown on a bathroom mirror. My very first metaphor was seeing my own image of myself looking back up at me in a clear lake. My last inhalation in life will be the word Allah, and the last exhalation in life will be the word Love.

Jean Baptiste Smillen

rainbow gas station

Life had been too precious. So, too, death. The former, life, was swum about like a fish in a bowl, never sure either of water, or of its own scales’ golden flash. The latter, death, is the one thing never owned, never possessed, never by my hands’ fingers grasped. I took a tour once in my foreign travels. Beggars, historians, and silent guards at museums revealed the same thing: cups that held coins, pages upon which events had been composed, and gilt frames holding masterpieces could only get so close to the things they held. But the thing itself, the dragonfly of being, had hovered aloof and almost at times indistinct over the surface of the pond, where it thereupon disappeared. Were I not to have been living and dying in my tiny cabin in the Rocky Mountains, I might happily and certainly have shared a glass of icy lemonade with a fellow traveler, with you. I might have clinked the rim of it, and have heard the tinkling of such guarded and discreet humanity. But that was not to be. Instead, I parted by myself one starry-skied night, by the blackened moon deposed, above the mountains’ purple majesty.

Francis E. Dunbolt

yellow leaves stone wall 2

I hadn’t a dime to my name. I hadn’t a penny to yours. I had a reindeer hoof from Pakistan. And a pirate patch from Tangier. The equals sign in the equation was always quite lopsided. There never was any equivalent to things being the same or domestic animals for sure. Walks under rainbows, snowshoes in spring, piles of needles unswept in the fall, I’m sure the cycle of time had abjured the little summering trespasses we sometimes had made crossing lakes, oceans, and a reservoir or two. Never was I an indifferent mathematician. I had held piles of sand in both hands, either one. Watching the grains fall slipping through my fingers was almost always one of my greatest pleasures. Now the Arctic is gone. Now the Sahara. Now the borrowed light of the moon is surrendered back to the sun. Now the great optative is strongly in place. And I fear the sudden death stroke of the aorist will come down and behead us both. Let us not speak a word further then. The great coronal plasma ejaculation is fast upon the Earth, and I wish I had been camping contigo in a thin, collapsible tent in the outback of Australia, where in the morning we’d have blinked away wavering glances of the aurora.

Cassidie Shoyzen Miller

rocky coastline

By nightfall, the package I had had was lifted from my fingers. I didn’t mind so much. Nor by the following dawn when I had seen my photographs themselves had been by an interloper forged. Even as the footsteps taken in the snow had been replaced by another’s pair of boots, I felt no threat. Like ribbons in the wind I had let these go, let these drift away and fly. What I minded rather was the cobwebbed world of my privacy had been invaded, had been tramped upon. Somebody’s hands had rubbed themselves against the grout and tile of my simple and peaceful morning nakedness. For to be discovered in this world at large is the last thing on Earth I had ever dreamt could be. The mice that scuttle in the walls, the summertime fireflies that flash and yearn, the great open ruthless maw of the Ocean, these are the corners of Existence that had appealed to me. Old Russian women their thick coats unbuttoned and open facing the warm gray light I had been told when I was young was their second winter their eyes closed in the park sunning themselves alone I had believed then to be the only nostalgia in my life I had ever hoped for. Where then is my December? I had wished once to be the milkweed seeds the Monarch on its southward venture would breakfast upon, helping those wings on their voyage afar, perhaps to reach the green wilds of Mexico, or perhaps not. I had wished to be the paint peeling off a barn door in some local farmer’s field abandoned. I had wished only if I wished anything to be, to be but the tiniest pinprick of human light disappearing into the Universe of obscurity, a place where only my namelessness would endure…

Samantha Goldenbeck

seascape late noon 2

I had been hiding overnight in my make-believe overnight camper. There were all sorts of things I never saw: a yellow tiger without stripes, a circus tent as high as the sky itself, a perfect diamond as large as outer space. It was a dream of dreams of course, and in my dreams of dreams there wasn’t any sorrow. I admit: there wasn’t glee there either. There really wasn’t a soul left in all the world herself except of course me sleeping in my little cot. I mustn’t, I had believed, write a moment of my mind down anywhere—neither on birch bark nor on the aluminum sills, lest thieves arrive and take from me what was yours, and what was mine. It’s all mixed up now the soot and all the sweetness, the campfire paradise I once had known with broiling devilish heat; good sense with nonsense, apricot juice with turpentine. One day soon when I had woken up, I saw upon the marble bust of tomorrow, the people there were all chatting, some cheerfully enough and others merrily too, even if, upon that waking, the rest of life was cut off from them, severed, like a head chopped perfectly from a torso, and they apart from me.


Red Blaze Is Still The Morning

In my little hut of tomorrow there is a little earth there. My meaning and my message, spent. The scratches of my boot heels in the floor are nearly constant. I am restless and uneasy. Songs no longer come easily to me. The thrush’s voice, once heard, a woodland memory. Other things, I remember entirely. So, I make nothing at all at my table today. Shut within, shut inside, I know the wind is blowing, and the light grows more at my single glass window. Outside the abounding world must prevail. And this here had once impelled me. Feeding the fire of my stove, warming my hands, touching my cheeks with their palms, I felt human enough.

Time ago it was, and it also was not, that my days of solitude, like mourning, were sufficient. They had fed me alone like zsir spread on toast. In fact, I needed these to hear the trumpets red cry blaring. From these, two years were spent like the snap of my finger and thumb. And I had felt the angels of history. They were nearly the perfect company, and, besides my wife, I scarcely was in want for any other.

This sentimental heartbeat, this picturesque illustration of days recalled passed, had been sacrificed for almost the entirety of my life. And I go there, farther and farther back, it seems, to some illusory, originary moment I seem to hold onto like a lugubrious locket of my beloved’s hair. I enter another man’s life and poetry as though ‘twere my own. And I am suddenly vacated, absented, traumatized by the death of Peter Sellers, dead when I was ten, and he merely fifty-four, a man, I read, with no personality at all, just, I thought then, like me.

Day beyond day, I hold back. I refuse to compose another Requiem. Non serviam. Another crime, another criminal, another transgression, another man with loopholes for an ax inside his longcoat, perhaps. But I am certain the killer inside me is another pair of legs that steps beside a patch of violets, who heard the music when the voices were gone, who, boarded up in his icy rusticity, almost comic for the late nineteenth century, had dwelt a while, and for another yet there lingered.

A Birthday Prayer

frozen gap

Winter is coming, and my tires are very thin. Lincoln’s bushy hairline barely clears the tread when I push a penny in. The cloves I planted on Columbus Day, the scapes they might by springtime’s greening be trimmed back, and grown to bulbs of garlic by July. So much is uncertain, while others are too clear: through ignorance, malice, and folly I lost the woman I love.

Through hours of stacking and tarping down, I ought to have enough wood to last me, to be just warm enough. I know for some there are the famed Snows of Kilimanjaro. But for me, I had just as soon be lost in an Irish public house, drinking and muting myself, guilty as a Christmas ghost. What it were to be a little kinder in my past. We, too, had quarreled though it never made time pass. It only made me brutal, recalcitrant, and increasingly deaf.

It made me care more and more about the fistful of coins I had left in my glove-box, and whichever rows I had of withering corn to get me through it. I became rustic against my own good and yours. O, these things, this blank apostrophe, are far from me now, and just like all the light, carefree change I once had tossed into the great River Danube, today’s lost treasure is become a heavy sunken thing to me.

The golden coy fish I have seen a-swimming in the bluestone opening in the hidden woods, to know their muddy bodies are safe there later on throughout the coldest months ahead is no little human comfort. And if I am graced to make it ‘round the snowy corners for the getting of a loaf of bread and chicken, and you are blessed with enough darkened morning peace without me, may it all to have been plenty.

Songs Of The Sea & The Earth

Everything I had known, and everything I had held dear had deserted me. And, unlike Yeats’ circus animals whom he claimed had deserted him, what remained for me was an incandescent flame, a vivid, hand-held torch with which I had always and will always hold aloft. And it is by this light of God that I will see the paintings on the wall where for fifty thousand years people haven’t since traveled before. By this I will even view the perfect moment John Wilkes Booth saw like a red maple leaf fluttering down while shooting and killing Lincoln in his theater box. The crimes and sacred moments of humanity, life, and sometimes glimmers of my own death, I have caught these like melting snowflakes falling into my autumn fingers.

To me, I have felt the sorrow of being the common cook whose food had accidentally poisoned the great Buddha. But I have also felt the rope breaking the neck of a bewildered Saddam Hussein. That I have no friends to turn to, nor scarcely any possessions, even an empty dresser drawer to slide in and out, I don’t even have that simple enough human pride of such wooden ownership to stand beside and claim as “mine.” My destiny had become to be a shipwrecked sailor to be cast upon another sea, to drift without craft, and to all my life wander from land to land in search of a numberless people who do not exist, whereupon, like the curse of Odysseus, giver and receiver of pain, my oath was to plant my alien oar.