This old apartment has beetles in the mirror
could be me
shedding wings in the laps of firepoles
or men, their mouths open like coal-chutes

Look at anything too long and
knuckles are metal and gong-beat-backed
concrete slabs that move
like an old rocker children split their eyes on,

Moon-bird in the window
roars
pours salt on my bedsheets and
skin shrivels the
old tiles applaud, clasp hands
with half-peeled walls and 

there are shells in there, all pieced
like the corners of a collarbone,
a young boy from Cincinatti trades
organs for wood and arsenic 
the currency of row boats.

I can see the floor move while sleeping
and feel my chest a Harlem window
conducting the electricity of the body
cleansed in rain and steam

Sane boy tried to make this place beautiful
and ended up feeding flies.

Walk like Tiffany

            people wearing

shuffle in guttered gutted birds

We heard morning

                         Sworn

                             Swelling

                                    Tell me

                                        come back to bed

red blanket

          our

rib-stained musket.

Mud slow moving

                   gallop feet in

                               harmony

to hair-slicked

quick-fingered widow.

crowded room

morgue

more    drumming

run memento mori

his 

Insomnia said forty five

speed

             spit on virus

sit on wired cables

we clean until midnight

close at moon

            bone

                    collars on doorhooks

hanging men

tried our best

           his chest his need

mouse feet petit allegro

our tongue in

      his eyes

           ozones benzos

                           jitter

                           quicker release

I grew up hearing about farms but I never worked on one. My mother told me a story that went something like ‘fire’ and grandfather frowning at the barn burning down. She said she could see the flames from her window, close to her face like confetti.

Grandpa never told me this story because it wasn’t masculine enough. To him every day was greased pigs and beatings. I always felt above this, taller than tomatoes and lettuce – more-so incubated in corn stalks or dug up from sunflowers.

Outside my sister used to rub me with buttercups in hopes that it’d make my skin darker, a glow as opposed to a pallor. I would burn my feet on pavement and break my wrists with leaves. One day I picked up a rock from the dirt-pile yard and woke a sleeping snake. I took the hose to my body for cleansing and my parents wouldn’t let me inside for a while. I sat next to a flowerpot of water and old cigarettes. 

I had a nightmare about this driveway and falling into the road.

I went canoeing with mosquitoes sometimes.

All I do now is pull weeds and feel my skin slithering. But inside I’m a bog. 

I am standing at the edge of Eddy Pond with Pa and a white bucket. He tells me we’re catching fish today. I ask him where the boat is and he doesn’t know, says there’s a patch of mud instead. 

He doesn’t give me a fishing rod or show me how to load the bait. I watch the pond and the carcasses of old land that the water swallowed: mossy landbones converted in bird’s nests.

Pa catches his first fish and it’s something the size of a turtle’s head. Its bloody eye starts to taint the water in the bucket and I ask Pa if we’ll eat this fish. He says, ‘can’t eat this fish.’

The pond water is brown but it ripples. It’s not cleared for swimming. I think that we should have gone to Carbuncle Pond instead but then I remember Penny and her loud voice and jean jacket and the lizards at my feet. I almost drowned that day because I fell asleep in the water, sort of birth-calm, while my mother sat on a beach chair, low to the ground. 

When we came home my sister and I urinated painfully and we weren’t allowed to go there ever again. Something about the pH level. 

Pa pulls in another fish, a weird fish. It looks at me while its gills bleed. I ask Pa if we’ll eat this fish. He says, ‘can’t eat this fish.’ 

This new fish has a large eye and when I look through it I can see my kitchen with the linoleum flooring peeling up at the corners. My family, all of us, we’re sitting at a table eating microwaved fish sticks and complaining about not having tartar sauce. Around my neck is a hook and line carrying fish bones, reassembled like an old fossil. Wearing this puts me at the head of the table and nobody speaks until I do.

Pa doesn’t catch a third fish. I step back from the mud patch and explore the woods behind us. There’s nothing but ticks and condoms and an old neighborhood boy named Doyle with a torn lip. A tick climbs on his face and I urge it to help him, stitch the lip back together. It latches on to his 2nd largest face-freckle and bites.

Doyle was my first boyfriend but I had a friend who called him macaroni and cheese which was off-putting. He used to ask me to watch him ride dirt bikes but I was scared of bikes. Mine had a praying mantis that lived under the seat.

Pa calls for me in a half-yell as if hoping to lose me and I start to feel like a criminal. People come here at night to sneak off and have sex. Doyle and I won’t have sex. It does seem like the thing to do but there’s a tick on his face and soon cops would come with flashlights. 

I walk to Pa’s red sewerage truck and he isn’t in it. The bucket is placed on the front seat, where I’d sit normally, meaning I’d have to hold it to my lap on the ride home. 

I look in the bucket and at the weird fish, which now shows me its other eye. I tell it a story about how the bucket water is clean water and how Eddy Pond has snapping turtles and broken beer bottles at the bottom. The weird fish burps. 

In the bucket is the first fish’s skeleton, perfectly intact. 

I put the bones around my neck and Pa comes back. He looks at them and says, ‘can’t eat these fish.’ I’m angry that he spoke first and notice two fish in the bucket.

I stand in the swamp

with sister, snake-

coiled at the hips.

 

Nights were meant to be

                dirt and

water

 

shared space with the innards of bog-animals and their dead hair

 

where the calm is.

 

Moon can’t snatch us

from behind

 

trees

 

with rounded fingers

                and

salted collarbones

 

mine broken from her

 

laugh

 

*

She has mud

                on

her ballet

feet

 

and mother

licks

them clean

 

I sit across from her like blood or shit on the mirror

 

or lipstick

on her teeth

 

can hear a

whistle

the swamp digging a grave

 

and

 

I have gray hair

in my ears

 

a buzzing

 

 

*

 

We have to masquer-

ade

as worms or

her

 

a dragonfly, toes

bleeding and

pointed

 

but nights weren’t meant to be film or weeping mothers and me

 

burning

 

ticks from my scalp.

 

Sister is the golden

ratio

 

and

 

I am

her

 

pedestal

In the back of the van Flynn told me we were going to a party. He said this in the same voice he used to read poetry, a tone which felt like buildings had collapsed in his throat.

The van drove crookedly and the street was one far-off from the main roads and home to beavers and human fingers. A limping fox prompted the gray-faced driver to stop and when I exited he drove off.

                The fox in the street hid behind a barn and I did not follow it. Looked in my pocket to find a whistle and felt nothing but a piece of paper with the words ‘Wild West’ on it. The way my fist clenched around it made my knuckles spear-heads but when they relaxed, maggots.

                I did not know where the Wild West was but I knew that I should go there. We had always planned to when the days were soft and I could feel the heat of beach-rocks on my feet. The way it would spread from skin to bone made my body feel inside out. In those moments I would ask,  ‘Do I look pretty, almost dying?’ and he would say my lifeline looked best when he had it locked in his jaw.

                We did not continue this way. When he learned that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves he said he needed to reevaluate the world. One morning I made him his ‘Revolution Breakfast Tea’, which we picked up from a reenactment, and he poured it on my chest.

                A roar of a train to my left, my feet now planted on the tracks and I knew children in the house next door were hiding from it all, 

                Like I did once,

And if they’d think a scream to be a fisher-cat or the freedom of a love lost.

My mother curls up against the body of the dead horse. I say to her, “It was always a ghost-horse, you know. Too-white and his burrs never stuck to my sneakers.” Tony scratches the back of his head, scaly and sunburnt, makes him look older. I sit on the fence and watch, kick rocks at my niece’s bare shins.

Simmy,” mother whispers, “I didn’t know.” I want to tell her that he’s dead and can’t hear what she’s saying, that he wouldn’t even if he was alive. Tony grabs my purse and asks me if I have gum, pulls me over to the barn.

It might be best if you leave them be for a while,” he says.

I say, “Funny words coming from a horse-killer.”

He says, “Simmy was suicidal,” and I kiss him hard on the mouth. His lack of guilt makes him more attractive.

I’ve got an alibi,” I say, “and it’s approved by Mary.”

******

I spent the day by the Virgin Mary statue in our backyard. She was bolted to the dead grass, white-covered eyes on the street. I worked on making her a headdress of flowers my neighbor had grown to make her look less cold, saw my mother’s horse, Simmy, kept walking into the road.

Stay away, funny horse,” I yelled. He did not yell back.

I told Mary not to worry, “All white horses have wings.” She did not seem as confident, kept her posture strong.

Simmy is a strange horse with a bad leg, think he might have brain damage. My mother told me he was abused, that my cousins used to beat him with large rocks. I didn’t tell her I was with them when they did it and she never asked.

The stable is only feet from our home, next to a red barn that invades our eyesight when we look out our window each morning. The nearest house isn’t for miles. The lack of traffic on this road makes the street full of strange people. The farm down the road has a woman that was arrested for chasing her husband around the backyard with a hatchet and without clothes. Hurt the man bad, painted the grass red. The way it patterned made it look like glass.

The pavement of our street was hot. I expected Simmy’s hooves to melt, his legs to sink into the road. I sat on the grass near Mary’s stone dress to keep my feet cold, watched Simmy wander. The sun made his mane look like stars. Blast off, horse, I thought. Simmy did not move. His stillness bothered me. I began calling his name. “Simmy.” He shook his head. “Come here boy!” He stomped his right foot. “Move,” I said. He neighed.

I asked Mary for help. Her statue-mouth wouldn’t open. I took the flowered headpiece I was crafting for her and said “Well, Mary. You’ve earned yourself one less tulip on this headdress,” and shoved the unused flowers in my mouth. I chewed them and felt like Simmy. Horse had bad taste.

Simmy watched. Cars began to talk at him with loud horns. The sound made him trot forward to the deer-warning sign next to my family farmhouse. I knew this meant I had to update it to include Pegagus-warnings as well.

“Simmy,” I said, “come any closer and I’ll have to tip you over.” He blew air from his nose and stood still. There was no reason for mother to be so infatuated with this particular horse. He had fishbowl eyes, large and watery, the type that the sunlight feeds on. She hadn’t mounted him in years, said his bones weren’t strong enough, that they’d shatter into marble-small pieces. The light grey of his fur was like dust, as if he was reflecting the inside of our farmhouse. Old thing filled with sawdust and powder, potentially broken down bone. Eerie house even has crosses nailed to the attic walls, no proper floor to walk on to remove them. I used to think Mary put them there, but she’s never had the legs.

Ten minutes late, the carpenter, Tony, pulled into the driveway. His blue flannel stuck to his back with sweat. “Break in the fence?” he asked, seeing Simmy. His eyes were small and focused on my mouth. “Whatcha chewing?”

“The fence,” I said. He shook his head. I grinned.

Nobody home?”

They’re at work,” I said. “Not everyone makes their own hours.”

No school for you today?”

Decided not to go.”

Sick?”

No. Knew you’d be here.”

Can’t get into college if you don’t graduate high school.”

That’s fine, though. You like your girls young.” He swallowed his breath, I watched his throat move.

I should fix that fence,” he said, and grabbed a toolbox from his truck.

It had taken me only twelve days to map Tony’s routine. On Monday, he came by to paint before the school bus showed up at my house. Tuesday, brought a male friend to help him scrape wallpaper around lunch. The male friend was around his age, fifty or so, but looked kinder. Made him less attractive. The rest of the week alternated between him not showing up at all, or sawing wood on the front porch for an hour or two. He had a bright smile at a lady jogger that passed each day around noon.

First time I met her she asked me why we were moving into my great-grandfather’s home. “Is Marty dead?” she asked. I told her, “No, just in a home now.” She was relieved to know he was alive. I told her, “He should be dead. He’s old and sad.” She did not respond. My mother interrupted the conversation. Said the jogger was an old friend, did not introduce me as her daughter. Last time she was here I told her a new route, said the sight of her bothers the horses. She asked me if I was Bonnie’s daughter, I said yes. She said I look nothing like her. “Good thing, she has a terrible nose,” I said. She clenched her teeth, made her neck look strained.

Tony led Simmy across the street. He hammered at the break in the fence. Removed his shirt. I told Mary to stop watching. She always had a perverted way about her, often focusing her stare on the bathroom windows of our home. I wondered why my parents didn’t factor that into the renovations. They didn’t seem to mind the invasion of privacy as much as I did.

“Should be good” he said, “Strange though, the breaks in the fence seem to be burnt off. Like someone torched the wood.” Behind him I could see Simmy back in the street.

“Careful, Tony. This is a teleporting horse,” I said.

He wrinkled his forehead and scrunched his nose. Made him look younger. He led Simmy across the street again, worked on another break in the fence. The sound of his hammer nailing the wood was rhythmic, lulling. I lay on the grass and started playing with the waistband of my skirt. Same result. Tony asked my permission to enter the barn and took rope, said he’d tie Simmy in place.

I knew the only place to tie Simmy was around the throat or the stomach, directed Tony to the smallest rope. He tried to fit it around Simmy’s body but gave up, made a noose-like loop and kept Simmy in place.

I laughed at the sight of him. The rope was tied tightly around his throat. “To the gallows!” I yelled. Tony shook his head.

“Funny thing,” he said, “isn’t much work left for me to do in the house. Just gotta paint a few rooms. Each time I come here, though, I never get to it. Seems like something else goes wrong.”

“Funny thing,” I said.

“Mind closing up the barn for me? I want to make sure the rope is safe.”

“Too many spiders in there, you’ll have to come with.” I told him. He listened, followed at my heels. I could hear his fingernails breaking in his teeth. “Gross habit,” I said, “chew gum instead.” I walked to the back of the barn. Tony stood at the door. I sat on the hay. He stood at the door.

“You don’t seem too scared to be in here,” he said and turned back towards the house.

“Good idea, Tony. The sex will be better if Mary watches.” He did not disagree. Simmy’s compulsion to walk in the road caused him to strangle himself with the rope in the meantime.

 

*****

Tony isn’t as thrilled about the alibi as I am. “Your parents won’t be too pleased to hear their carpenter fucked their daughter.”

It’s either that or you strangled a horse,” I say.

My niece enters the barn, crying. Her face looks like it’s melting. I ask her why she’s sad, tell her she didn’t even know the horse. She turns around and wraps herself around my father’s leg. The female jogger comes to see all of the commotion. She weeps at the sight of the horse. I tell her, “Horse needed to die, was brain damaged and had a bad leg. If it was up to me, know what I would have done?” I point at her with my index finger, thumb raised, and mouth “bang.”

Tony approaches the jogger, consoles her. Weak girl, I think. When Tony and I found the body there was no such reaction.

 

Silly thing,” I said to it, and kicked Simmy’s side. Tony knelt down, grabbed the rope. “Well, that was one hell of a knot I made,” he said and admired his work. We laughed. “Simmy was a dumb horse.”

*****

Tony runs his fingers along the hair of the jogger, who says she used to ride Simmy with my mother. He leads her to the barn, they sit down. She puts her head on his shoulder. He kisses her forehead, whispers something. I sit with Mary, pet her head. Tell her we won’t lose him.

********

Each day after Simmy’s death is routine. Tony comes by to paint, fixes a few things here and there. The jogger, knowing Simmy is dead, feels comfortable on this route again. She stops to chat. Tony offers her a glass of water. Mary and I watch. They kiss sometimes, sneak off to the barn. I watch. The sight of me makes them speed their steps. I’m aware of Tony’s mortality when I see him with her. She leaves to finish her route. Tony walks over to the backyard. He doesn’t sit, instead towers above Mary and me. I look at him, block the sun from my eyes.

Looks like things here are done,” Tony says, “just have to gather my stuff and I’ll be out of your way.”

What if things keep breaking?” I ask.

Hire someone to fix them.”

Like you?”

No.”

Tony enters the barn. Without thinking, I follow, close the door behind him, lock it. Tony laughs in reaction to the sound. “We had a good run,” he says, “now open that up, start attending school again.”

Can’t,” I say, “was expelled.”

For what?”

Started a fire in a trashcan.”

That all?”

No.”

I stand by the door for a few minutes. Tony grows impatient. I can hear his feet dragging on the barn floor, pacing. He tries to pry open the door with his tools. The wood of the door begins to snap, sounds weak. Need a new barn.

How does she taste, Tony?” I ask. He pauses.

Like someone my age,” he says.

So she’s stale, filthy.”

We don’t need to discuss this right now.” The wood continues to splinter.

She’s sweaty and wrinkled, fake blonde hair.”

Just open the barn.”

And crying over the horse. How can you even sleep with someone when you’ve seen them cry? I’d just be thinking of that the whole time.”

Tony pauses. “I only think of death when I sleep with you.”

Good,” I say.

Your parents will be home soon,” he says, “can’t keep me in here forever.” I want to tell him that mother’s mind will be on gin and arguments with father over what songs to play on the jukebox at Herbie’s, one town over. That she won’t even look at the barn. I look at Mary and nod, walk back into the house.

******

Mother comes home with hiccups and her red-eyed husband. I sit in the far corner of our living room, in view of the front door, and keep only the outside light on. The light hits Mary and makes her glow.

Those people have no business singing karaoke. They don’t know the first THING about singing,” mother says.

We should do a song together, Bon,” her husband says.

No, your voice is too low, you can’t sing anything.” Mother laughs. He joins. I join to let them know that I’m here.

That’s funny guys, I say, “but not as funny as the man I locked in the barn today.”

Mother stares at me and I rock back and forth to throw off her focus. Her body smells like remnants of the perfume she applied hours ago and chardonnay. “You what?” she asks.

I caught a man that was fondling Simmy’s corpse and I locked him in the barn.”

Fondling how?”

Inappropriately, I think.” I wink at my mother and she sends her husband to check the barn. I go to my room and stare at the fresh paint on my walls. I can see the wallpaper pattern beneath it. Looks like pig skin, I think. I look down at my feet and there are three paint drops on the hardwood. Know they’ll need to be covered in carpet. I hear Tony’s truck leave the driveway and he honks loudly. I check to make sure he didn’t wake Mary. 

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