From ‘New York Fires’
Everyone Loves a Bribe
AND WANTS REWARDS
but remains unable to make a single move not self-determined. I’ve never known what to order, not now, not ever. Take two women grinding at the mill, revolving a convex surface on the other’s concavity, thrown around a human assembly, driven to the wall with
PART OF ANOTHER PERSON
— what are we supposed to do with other people?, with all this betting, all this preparation and eager anticipation? The menu just goes on and on. Searching for a fork in too much gravy. God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty and release the body, but we cannot throw ourselves into the arms of anyone else and say the foundation of our own movement drops away, we cannot throw ourselves into the arms of anyone else and say snow out in the country means something, because anyone else is
TWO WOMEN GRINDING AT THE MILL
revolving a convex surface on the other’s concavity, thrown around a human assembly. Now drift into the wall.
The Butcher Cart Business
WHERE ARE THESE CAPTAINS?
There is a remarkable similarity in the circumstances surrounding the deaths of men. I wish them to stand before me, a line of drunks, in which I can safely talk now that hope is dead and I pour oil over it and set fire to the bundle. Yes, Hope and I broke what had become of those bonds whose half-charred and acid-seared body stood on the bridge, went into a saloon, called for drinks on account of his adventurous life, rambling but not irrational:
“THE VICTIM IS THE GREATEST OBSTACLE,
and I loved the young minister harboring his wife, the ferry boat to Alaska, the ambiance and decor, scallop ceviche, broccoli rabe, sugar snap peas, duck confit, pork belly tapas.” For between spells of fever and desperate cases of diphtheria (skull fractured, windpipe severed, a heap on the mattress in early morning), there is a remarkable similarity in the circumstances surrounding the deaths of men.
Companies Which May Become Tenants
BE LAID PLAIN
to a mass of telegraph wires, the shape of human life and the rooms which surround it, crawling along the signs of poor working girls, sinking back in an ocean subject to correction: as soon as the occupants can get at their books, or the agents can look up their records, scatter them in all directions.
Curious Accidents Attending the Conflagration
KICKED IN THE BREAST BY AN UNRULY HORSE,
the knot of boys and men, injured internally and bruised all over, were piled in the factory yard, many thousand ripping open and tearing up the earth. Five lone women are to offer themselves, jaw broken, thigh broken, to the force of men like pine lumber or smoke coming up the elevators. One of these had a sleeping 5 year old daughter on her lap, with no home. She was obliged to walk a long distance in snow, both ankles fractured. “I just kept walking and walking and when I could see the water, the accidents that succeeded each other,
I ASKED IF IT WAS A SQUARE DEAL
and then said it wasn’t. After digging inside, I found the little morsel, prepared carefully and right in front of you. Coming here not only smelled like waking up, but tasted like the perfect escape from everything. You’re pretty much living your life incorrectly. A portrait of a cat. Lemon water. For some reason I am thinking about my grandmother. Dry woodwork under the eaves. Brightly colored steamship posters, gilded lettering. All of this in a tiny corner on the edge of the world. I love this place. I love this place. I love this place.”
THE MEN AND BOYS LOOKED ON,
getting dark, and their contents flowed out. Yes we are obliged to walk a long distance in the snow, but none are expected to live.
Into a Crowd of Pursuers
to have been relaxed during the dinner hour. We sat for hours and ate at leisurely pace with no one bothering us. The weather was perfect. So much lobster, so much bacon, so much avocado.
SO MUCH WIN.
I began to crack under the expansion. A few bites in, I couldn’t even remember what I was supposed to be eating. I didn’t know what to do and so just began shouting for the police. Help. Help. Lines were strung to the blazing tanks. Distressed occupants moved their furniture into the street. They were caught in this cloud, made a dash to escape, and then I saw him,
THE OWNER OF THE AMERICAN FLAG
(on which there is no insurance), lean over in front of the bank with blood running down his face, too excited to count his money. Fear was expressed, with drawn revolvers. We wanted to try something different for lunch. Almost immediately the explosion occurred. Oh Lord, reassure me that lobster connoisseurs are not inherently jerks.
Either to be Suffocated or Roasted
THE ACCOMMODATIONS ARE QUITE INADEQUATE
If ‘where shall we live’ is a question not infrequently asked, then ‘where can we live’ is the question peremptorily and perpetually asked, and my sister, like anyone, needs a home, though how can this be?, she’s had so many now, upwards of four or five per annum, single flats and tenement wires, Lysol and carpeting
HUNDREDS OF IRON BEDSTEADS,
blankets mattresses pillows and clothing scattered about everywhere (at this rate she soon may have rented the whole of the city), such that her existence is consumed in following the lead of furniture vans, in moving in and moving out, in playing a grand game of pussy-wants-the-corner with a million or two of her neighbors, by the endless mutations of trade and town, no guarantee of permanence or peace, as those who have only what they earn long have preyed on the morning’s milk and rolls, where every cigarette means a dream of some future crime, because
THE BUILDINGS HAVE BEEN PUSHED FORWARD UPON THE SHORE
and thus the ends of justice might be completely frustrated, when they, according to Dr. Bissell’s statement, open their mouths to receive the relief of some refreshment, when the water is spread in the burning air, and the owners seem to put the blame for what has happened on the beasts and begin to beat them on account of the limited and unsuitable accommodations over which they themselves preside, one wonders how to answer a question that has not been asked
SO THE POLICE COMMISSIONERS HOLD A PRIVATE MEETING
and while denouncing the act, they apologize for the actors, saying “when things are at their worst, they are apt to grow less bad,” and in fact, they are erecting two shanties, of which she may opt to be the gatekeeper, for “her body alone is the cause and pretense of her detention,” they say, such that she ought open the future with the force under her command, “you mule, fat mule, open the gate at all hazards, open the gate, what are you waiting for”
MULE WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR
and she, rather than rising into the air, sailing a hundred feet and more over the smokestacks and warships, with the speed of a railroad flier, and rather than feeling the hot upward currents ascending from the funnels, swinging around in a perfect curve barely ten feet above the land, up and down the river and across into Jersey, both in spectacular interest and in personal daring, with two silk flags flying from either side of her sweatpants and purses as she crushes the will of an unseen authority — yes, rather than all that, of course she complacently surrenders, hitting upon the shanties in the quarantine zone with all of her useless life (barely anything at all), what else can one do but bow graciously under the stroke until the outside walls are broken down, what has anyone else ever done, whereupon she is of course beaten and restrained, just there in the corner, her ungainly body stretched like a pelt and placed upon the grass with shouts from the jackies hanging to the yard-arms, her legs ripped from her hips, her ribs pulled from her back, first by one man and then another, left in lofty perches in the rigging like a monster bird, with children everywhere, and by that I mean she’s training to be a phlebotomist, has a son and big ideas, wants to live in Vermont or North Carolina or just south of Hartford or the edge of Staten Island and is there anything wrong with that so
WHERE CAN I GET AN APARTMENT NEAR SHOPS AND LAUNDRY?
for verily the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel, and verily “the job market is wide open, so what are you waiting for fat mule,” and verily “every day there are new homes throughout the city, overwhelmed with people double-stacked in the hallways, so by all probability you should damn well be one of them,” there are sisters everywhere and nothing to blame, the quarantine zone begins and ends with the length of a body, we’ve all had our arms out the window of an unregistered car up I-95, no purer pleasure, no greater justice. I hear that the airship finally reached the seawall — and is there detained by virtue alone.
Dolan Morgan lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where he helps edit The Atlas Review. He’s the author of two story collections, That’s When the Knives Come Down (A|P, 2014) and INSIGNIFICANA (CCM, 2016). His work can be found in The Believer, PANK, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, The Lifted Brow, Selected Shorts, and the trash.
Note from Dolan: ‘Most of [New York Fires] is a combination of lines taken from old newspaper articles about fires and comments on Yelp reviews for establishments that exist today where those fires once took place.’