The Street to Heaven
The average American believes in reincarnation but hates hugs. Some even claim that the stuff inside us is the same stuff swirling inside stars. Meanwhile, elderly Jewish grandmothers were murdered to music. What was yours thinking as she sleepwalked along? Was she thinking of bones and shooting stars? No matter. You have been quietly waiting, only hands and face illuminated, for God to explain what he does nowadays. The outcome is a disappointment, needles falling off a Christmas tree in a living room in Levittown, Long Island.
Homo Homini Lupus
I said, “Hey, man, you all right?” This was someone who was trying to disappear. He seemed to be eroding, like a limestone sculpture of grief on an abandoned grave. I mentioned that the ancient Chinese recommended the healing power of dog saliva. He said nothing, didn’t even glance at me. The black dots in the distance may have been farm women beating a stranger to death with their hoes.
All government offices had closed for the day. Instead, it was the pollution that was responsible for the beautiful colors at sunset. I could feel a disaster coming even before I noticed the row of empty stores. My thoughts circled back to the magician’s blonde assistant who should have retired, like Rossini, at 38. This reminded me of a parable. A student asked the Zen master, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” The master slapped his face.
The woman put a .25-caliber Beretta, a lady’s gun, and not a very nice lady, in her purse. She had seen Double Indemnity on Turner Classic Movies something like 73 times. My primary thought was of escape. At first I couldn’t remember where I had parked the car, and by the time I did remember, the pool of blood on the ground was moving as if it were alive.
Start again, this time with a dog with an American flag bandana knotted around its neck. Which route would you rather take, the shortest or the most scenic? My mother wouldn’t drive on highways, too afraid, a phobia I don’t share but many apparently do. It was her heart that eventually killed her. As she liked to say, “Life’s what you make it.” Now it’s a boat. Now a flower pot.
The Hotel of Forgotten Artists
There’s no one at the reception desk to welcome you. There never is. Only you don’t realize that. How could you? And so you wait. You wait and wait, and while you wait, your clothes, your manner, your worldview go out of fashion. Only you don’t realize that either. By now you don’t even realize that you are waiting, because you have been waiting so long that waiting has become indistinguishable from being, the total extent of your activities. Nothing ever disrupts or otherwise interferes with the industry of waiting. No one crosses the lobby. No one sits on the furniture placed in conversation clusters. No news enters from outdoors. It’s been a year, maybe more, since you last imagined you heard voices, footsteps, music. Upstairs the rooms are spotless – in fact, identical white boxes – and all numbered zero.
Self-Portrait in Hell
When I leave home, it’s still dark. What I’d like to do if I could is grab a policeman and walk him on a leash down the avenue. Instead, a sad guy leaps out at me. “What’d you say?” he demands. I barely answer. The more I stare at his face, the more it looks like a carnival mask, green, violet, and pink. Misery burns us. Drugs burn us. The sun burns us. It occurs to me that you’d have to be pretty naïve to loot a ziggurat. He had covered it in that ultra-black paint of his. I don’t know why but clocks can be heard to howl. And then? And then the deer are fat and ready for eating.
If someday you happen to think of me, think of me as rude hand gestures in super slow motion, or as a plain-looking car with a trunkful of guns, or as the cyanide pill that an American spy caught crossing the Soviet border should have swallowed but didn’t, think of me as the needles of rain keeping bored children locked up indoors all day, and forget the rest, the oracular diction, and the blue, blue eyes, and the strong shadows that can mean there was a lot of sun.
Howie Good is the author of Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements, winner of the 2015 Press Americana Prize. His latest book is A Ghost Sings, a Door Opens from Another New Calligraphy. He co-edits White Knuckle Press with Dale Wisely.