Splendor of Decay

decayed wall

The old things that were, or which had been. The filthy crow’s feather. A cut open bottle of Clorox used to empty a dinghy. A woman’s sex tired or just worn out of love’s continued indifference. A man’s prick shoved up with a catheter from biking a thousand miles crushing all the little bits, the pathways inside. Places rent out used automobile tires to the poor who will miss payments. Reedy-voiced landlords will squeeze money they don’t earn out of Section 8’s who don’t care anymore. A bumpkin takes a bottle of polish and a hand cloth and scrubs away the patina on the old bronze plaque and paints the cement block on which it stands deep, dark green. Even the Perseids are blotted out by rainfall and clouds for three days. A mid-town technician charges for 16 MB for RAM and puts in 8. 15,000 more Clinton emails are found and are as meaningless as a pile of dirt in front of a tank. The kid in Tiananmen Square got bulldozed. iPhones do give everybody brain cancer. Monsanto seeds do not reproduce. Indians starve. Chemicals are squirted so deep into the ground no one can tell for fifty more years. All the coral reefs spit out their bacteria and die. The bluebirds will not eat. Geese don’t bother to migrate. The mother serves her children frozen pizza, baby carrots, sliced apples every night. Nobody minds. Two blond, pony-tailed women in Greenwich wearing fluorescent skin-tight leggings jog in different directions on North Street. Their husbands work on Wall Street and the chimney smoke in the mansions they live in designed by Bob Stern protégés can be smelled by the next door neighbors who live in similar edifices on either side and straight across the street.

Mitch Böcklinfeld

dilapidation

The paper wasps’ home was shredded. And my love affair with life had ended, crumpled up in tiny spheres on the ledge of my piano. I did not know where I had put last month’s bills that had not been paid whose fines I had weaseled out of again. Dissolute and empty-bottled, I knew that Spring would greet the morning soon enough. Though cameras strapped in the trees had watched my antics and peccadilloes, I had been innocent as any pauper accused of public hoarding. Rooting through my neighbors’ bins, I had found the twine-bundled news retelling the stories of last century’s politics that really, in the end of days, meant a straw to the passing wind and me. I continued to decline the several invitations I had had—and continued to receive—to play my mandolin, which joy I had once known, and time ago had been well-known for, locally and elsewhere abroad. Who could now subscribe to such vanity? As for my relentless, unrelenting sweet tooth, such a habit I kept almost like a practiced virtue unto myself exclusively, and had chosen not to share the faintest fingertip of my thinking—or any other thought—which I might have had with another living anywhere. My pulse, my blood, it was—it had become—like a private magic that I was holding within, that I could not explain, like a walk I had had to take to the end of my snow-bedusted driveway, having risen from my warmed bed sleeping, just to go there in the middle of the late blackened night, emptied of the heavens’ own eyeless stars.

Vicktor B. Kruharth

dollar bill boy

There is no shame in being poor. One is spared having to make choices all the time. When one has money, one enters shops and stores and is always deciding this or that, or not this or not that. One is constantly making these sorts of decisions, deciding whether or not to buy the many things upon the shelves, things that wait there to be bought by my hands reaching up or by someone else’s. Whether to buy a pair of cashmere gloves or not. Because I like cashmere. Whether to buy a hand-made silk camisole from France for a lover. Because doing so is romantic, soft, and sexy. Whether to buy organic avocados. Because they taste best. In being poor I am free to wander in and out of stores. Hello, Tarik! And spend a half hour talking with him about his school days in North Africa. Hello, Suzy! And in between her holiday customers, I flirt with her only to flatter away the time, and do nothing else before leaving. It is such a relief! Everybody else is so busy with their noses in the classic or the best-seller books in bookstores they are reading and skimming with their noses deep in them for their boyfriends this year who will not be their boyfriends this time next year and they will have to put their noses in another book again the same way (making sure to only themselves—for who else would ever know?—that it is not the same book as last year, or the year or the boyfriend or the book before that) for all these different boyfriends, book after book, year after year. The floral- or fruit-scented bath soaps husbands must buy their wives which they do so out of a perennial symbol of the season’s obligation, whose failure to have done so would become a breach of custom tempting back-turned upon wordlessness at night (and no act of sex to indicate that all is well conjugally as it should be) before going to sleep, I am completely spared of too. If it is a new wife, so much the worse, and all the more difficult. Getting it right. Pleasing her. All is so fraught. I am spared it completely. I will wander on my own to the woods and with a bow saw cut down a small green tree since I cannot afford even to buy one from the local Christmas tree lot this year. And the sense of relief I feel from not having to make any of these choices this year to me is so great, I almost shudder when I remember, when I recall, having had lots of money once and being able to buy, had I wanted to, a fir tree twenty feet tall; had I wished to, buying expensive German designer shirts, and hand-crafted beeswax candles sweetly burning away my lost nights of love and languor. How free I am now that this gone. Gone! To be totally stripped of choice! To be in a position of cannot. All this is gone from me! When I wake, tomorrow I will walk alone across the causeway, my eyes looking across the flat wide open lake the wind has already passed over.

The Staircase Of Noble Wood

deserted mine

There wasn’t enough cash left to get two cans of high temp paint to spray the woodstove black. It’d have to do to let it burn through the winter this time, grimy and rusty in spots. Next year will be better. And the switched out pair of snows had just enough tread hopefully to pass inspection if he did it one or two months earlier than the windshield sticker said to in February when by then making it up the hill would be impossible and down’d be deadly.

Fortunately, the cat wasn’t balking at dry food which per pound per meal was much less change to spend than can after can, even by the case, of wet. She’d gotten used to the dry crackle of kibbles in between her teeth, mushed in with a little wet around sundown when she’d come inside for the last time before nightfall. And the cat purred anyway so long as she was treated kindly stretched out on his chest, or balled up on the colored striped blanket folded on the corner of the bed.

He’d go about his business, felling standing timber, cutting it up, and buying a new chain now and then when the spare broke, as happens from time to time. And then the rest was split by hand which, as work, is a decent way of forgetting everything. Making firewood is a good way to live. It takes only calmness, focus, steady breaths, and enough strength to lift a maul above the head before the grace of Earth’s gravity lends her own hand to travel swiftly down between the seam unseen to the human eye.

Maybe one day his name would be posted in the middle pages of the local newspaper with all the others whose land and homes were in arrears. But that could be some time yet. That could be some time before the sheriff came. Things by then could change, maybe for the better, maybe not. Years back, when he was rich, he’d had a lawyer who’d gibed, “You can’t squeeze blood out of turnip.” So to turn turnip, so to turn rock. There never was shame in being poor.

For gifts, he’d give away a pretty enough feather he’d find (or had found) lying somewhere in the woods. A first edition of The Lives of Cells, by Lewis Thomas, would be nice from his bookshelves. A diamond unearthed from the great days swinging a sledge at Herkimer would please him immensely, too. There were enough rocks and minerals and handfuls of Apache tears to give away to others for years.

This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Potato Chip Man Yoga Retreat

snow & sign & shed

He’d take a little bit of household garbage, the kind that can’t be recycled or the kind that can’t be composted, and crumple it up. Then he’d take that little bit and a little bit more than that and crumple it up, and when he had crumpled up many small bits of garbage and stuffed all the small bits of crumpled up garbage into a medium-sized, empty potato chip bag, he’d put the stuffed bag of garbage filling the potato chip bag by his front door. Later on, when he had to leave the house to drive to town, he’d push the garbage-filled potato chip bag into the public trash barrel that stood outside the grocery store where he went food shopping. That way, he could reduce by many times the trips he would have had to have made to the local dump to throw out a large, 39 gallon trash bag filled with garbage for 6 dollars a bag. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend would take out-of-state trips to Yoga Retreat Centers, big ones with recognizable names in the Northeast. She’d meet wonderful, upper-middle class people there like herself and do poses and stretches and eat high quality vegetarian food and make close new friends, and eligible middle-aged men whose cars were even nicer than hers was. Since she was sterilized, sex was never a problem with people from the get-go, even though it meant everything everybody had it got spread around like a very thin layer of peanut butter that nobody could taste or see but which everybody became infected by. Yes, for sure, no doubt, everybody in her social circles now they were bound to be rich, flexible in body, and totally gung-ho about living life. He, on the other hand, with his beautiful solitary mind, would never again waste a moment. His poverty made him aware of every action; his thinking made him, whenever he talked at all now, which was seldom anymore, aware of his few remaining spoken words.